By Sam Youngman - 06/15/09 07:34 PM EDT
Congressional Republicans were intensely critical of the White House’s wait-and-see approach, but Obama said late Monday afternoon he wanted to try and keep the U.S. out of the rhetoric and heated atmosphere dividing that country.
He added that he is “deeply troubled by the violence that I’ve been seeing on television.”
Riots irrupted throughout Iran after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected. There were allegations of ballot fraud but Obama noted there was no way to know if the results were valid since neither the U.S. nor the international community had election observers in the country.
The president said the democratic process, free speech and the ability of people to peacefully dissent are values he considers universal and they “should be respected.”
Obama noted that backers of Mir Hossein Mousavi, who lost by a surprisingly large margin, “now feel betrayed.”
House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) took aim at the White House’s “silence” earlier in the day, putting out a statement that criticized the president’s careful approach as "a step backwards for homegrown democracy in the Middle East.”
"President Obama must take a strong public position in the face of violence and human rights abuses,” Cantor said. “We have a moral responsibility to lead the world in opposition to Iran’s extreme response to peaceful protests.
Early on Monday White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters “obviously we continue to have concern about what we’re seeing.”
Back at the White House, Obama said that even though he finds some of the Iranian president’s past statements “odious,” he still believes “the use of tough hard-headed diplomacy, diplomacy with no illusions” is critical to U.S. national security matters.
“We will continue to pursue a tough, direct dialogue between our two countries, and we’ll see where it takes us,” the president said.