President Obama said that the United States is willing to lend its moral support to protesters across the Muslim world, but said it will not directly intervene in them.

Pro-democracy protests have spread to Yemen, Bahrain and Iran in the wake of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's decision to step aside after over two weeks of street protests demanding his ouster.

"We were clear then and we are clear now, what has been true in Egypt should be true in Iran, which is that people should be able to express their opinions and their grievances," Obama said at a Tuesday morning press conference.

The United States faced some criticism in 2009 for not supporting in strong enough terms the Iranian opposition protests that erupted in the wake of that country's disputed elections.

Obama said that "the difference this time" is that the Iranian government's response has been to "shoot, beat and arrest people."

But the president said that the United States would not directly or indirectly participate in the protests in Iran, which is led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni.

"Ultimately, these are sovereign countries that have to make their own decisions. What we can do is offer moral support," the president said.