Senior Obama administration officials on
Monday defended U.S. handling of the Iranian election crisis amid criticism that
President Barack Obama has not been forceful enough on the issue. The White
House said it has seen no justice in Iran's crackdown on protesters after the
president's weekend call for an end to violence by Tehran authorities.
Administration officials are reiterating their call for a fair and
non-violent resolution of the Iranian election conflict, while stressing their
determination not to allow Tehran to make the United States a "foil" for the
country's political conflict.
The administration has taken a measured approach to the crisis, although
President Obama stepped up the level of U.S. rhetoric on Saturday amid televised
scenes of chaos on Tehran's streets. He called on the Iranian government to stop
all violent and unjust actions against its people and to respect universal
rights of assembly and free speech.
On Monday, the White House said it is clear from subsequent events that
"justice has not been achieved."
Officials at the State Department have expressed concern that a more vigorous
response would fuel already frequent Iranian charges that the United States is
meddling in the crisis.
U.S. critics, among them former Republican Presidential candidate John
McCain, have said the White House has been too timid, with McCain saying the
response is a "betrayal" of America's founding principles.
However, at a press event with Georgia's Foreign Minister, Grigol Vashadze,
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg rejected the notion that the
administration is "pulling its punches" on Iran. He said the president's
cautious stance has bipartisan support.
"I think there have been a number of very influential voices -- both
Republican and Democrat -- who've recognized, as the president has said, that
this is an issue that's about the Iranians and for the Iranians to decide. The
president made very clear over the weekend that we're concerned about the
violence. We think it is very important that if this is going to be an issue for
the Iranians to decide, then all the voices should be heard -- that the process
should be fair and that the people should be allowed to express their opinions.
And I think this is not a partisan issue," he said.
Steinberg was standing in at the Georgia event for Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton, who had surgery last Friday on her broken right elbow.
He confirmed that the injury has forced Clinton to cancel plans to attend two
multi-lateral meetings this week at which the Iran crisis is likely to be a
major issue -- a G-8 foreign ministers meeting in Trieste, Italy and an informal
conference of OSCE foreign ministers on the Greek island of Corfu.
But Clinton has been active in telephone diplomacy on Iran, calling, among
others, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, whose government, like the
United States, has been accused by Iranian authorities of meddling in the
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said the Iranian
government is looking for scapegoats in a situation it has created. "What you've
seen in Iran is what you've been seeing all along, and that's using us as a kind
of foil -- using the 'Great Satan,' using the U. S. as a way to justify a policy
or gain public support. We don't want to get into a polemic on this. I think
what you saw over the weekend was a very strong statement by the president,
setting out these fundamental principles that our country was founded on. And
these are the kind principles that we are going to stand up for," he said.
Kelly declined under questioning to say whether the administration might be
reconsidering its policy of seeking dialogue with Tehran on Iran's nuclear
program and other issues. But he stressed that the U.S. focus now is not on the
bilateral relationship, but on what is happening on Tehran's streets.