Cantor faces off with White House over Iran

The White House maintained its cautious tone on the disputed election and subsequent upheaval in Iran on Monday, while a GOP leader lashed out at "the administration's silence."

Meeting with the press before President Obama's speech to the American Medical Association in Chicago, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "I think there are a number of factors that give us some concern about what we've seen."

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"Obviously we continue to have concern about what we've seen. Obviously the Iranians are looking into this, as well," Gibbs told reporters. "We continue to be heartened by the enthusiasm of young people in Iran."

The State Department said they "have doubts" about the election, but spokesman Ian Kelly said they weren't prepared to assess the election results beyond that.

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) lambasted the White House in a statement Monday afternoon, as reports came out of Iran of at least one protester killed in the tumult after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed a landslide victory over challenger Mir-Hossein Mousavi on Friday.

"The Administration’s silence in the face of Iran’s brutal suppression of democratic rights represents a step backwards for homegrown democracy in the Middle East," Cantor said. "President Obama must take a strong public position in the face of violence and human rights abuses. We have a moral responsibility to lead the world in opposition to Iran’s extreme response to peaceful protests.

“In addition, Iran’s clerical regime has made clear that its nuclear program will move forward," he said. "The United States cannot trust the aspirations of a nation that is a state-sponsor of terrorism, and the Administration must work with Congress to do everything in its power to deny Iran nuclear weapons.”

Gibbs said Monday that the U.S. was still concerned about Iran's nuclear program, which the Islamic Republic claims is for energy instead of weapons, and the Islamic Republic's sponsorship of terror groups. While Mousavi is more reformist than Ahmadinejad on domestic issues, both candidates assert Iran's right to a nuclear program.

More members sounded off as the drama continued to unfold Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) withheld judgment on the legitimacy of the elections, taking a wait-and-see approach to the growing controversy and noting that the election is already being analyzed in Iran.

"They're studying it themselves, so it's up to them," Reid said. "We're not going to determine an Iranian election."

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), though, said on Fox News that Iran's refusal to admit international monitors and withholding of detailed election results raised red flags.

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"There's every indication that this was not a legitimate election," Lieberman said, adding that the U.S. needed to be supporting the Iranian people demonstrating for democratic freedoms.

Lieberman said on MSNBC that the U.S. should increase funding for Radio Farda, which broadcasts to Iranians in the same way that Radio Free Europe targeted residents behind the Iron Curtain.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.), who reserved comment on the elections over the weekend, mentioned the crisis in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday.

"In the aftermath of last Friday’s Iranian elections, it’s clear we are living through some history together right now," Kerry said. "I share the concern of many in Iran and around the world that the announced results of Iran’s presidential election appear not to reflect the will of the Iranian people. The subsequent crackdown only heightens those concerns."
 
Kerry said the elections just reinforced Obama's Iran policy. "The spirited debate, huge rallies and record-setting turnout show that the Iranian people want a real say in their government – and that many reject the hostile, confrontational approach of the past several years," the senator said. "It also reinforces the wisdom of President Obama’s direct outreach to the Iranian people and his offer of a different vision for Iran’s role in the world."

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the results "disappointing" but "not astonishing" on CNN.

"I hope that we can succeed in our relations with Iran, but this is not a good sign, and we should speak out strongly in opposition to what was clearly a corrupt election," McCain said.

J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report