White House defends Obama's Iran stance
The White House Thursday defended President Barack Obama's stance on Iran's political crisis, amid fresh Republican demands for him to strongly back demonstrators in Tehran, AFP reported.
"The president believes that he's struck the right tone as do others in the administration, as do others in the Republican Party, as do others in the Democratic Party," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs.
Obama has warned that universal rights of peaceful protest should be honored in Iran, but has refused to pick sides in the post-election showdown between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi.
In Iran, tens of thousands of Mousavi supporters demonstrated for a sixth straight day on Thursday, keeping up the pressure on the Islamic regime over the disputed vote, witnesses told AFP.
Mousavi joined the crowds, most of whom were dressed in black as a mark of mourning for demonstrators killed in clashes during the protests, which have been banned by the authorities. Iranian state radio has reported seven deaths since the protests started.
Obama has warned that US "meddling" in Iran's internal politics would be counterproductive, downplayed policy differences between the two rivals in the disputed poll and vowed to push forward his engagement policy with Iran.
Officials appear concerned that a vehement intervention in the crisis could give Iranian authorities the chance to portray demonstrators as agents of the United States and prompt a crackdown.
But senior Republicans have started to squeeze Obama on the issue, accusing him of treating a regime with long record of antipathy to Washington and opposition demonstrators with moral equivalence.
"America has a moral responsibility to stand up for these brave people, to defend human rights, and to condemn the violence and abuses by the regime in Tehran," said Eric Cantor, a member of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.
Cantor also highlighted a comment by Gibbs on Wednesday, that the situation represented a "vigorous debate" between Iranians about their leadership, though the spokesman reiterated Obama's concerns about the suppression of dissent.
"The administration's position that what's going on in Iran is a 'vigorous debate' is absurd," Cantor said.
"People are being brutalized and murdered by the regime in Tehran. We have no idea exactly how many have died or have been seriously injured, since the regime has restricted journalists.
"In no way do these actions constitute a 'vigorous debate.'"
Obama's vanquished 2008 Republican election foe John McCain has also been hammering the president on his stance on Iran.
"He should speak out that this is a corrupt, fraud, sham of an election," Obama's defeated 2008 election rival John McCain told NBC on Tuesday.
"The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, oppressive regime.
Gibbs also disputed reports quoting senior officials, that some high-profile members of the administration wanted Obama to speak out more forcefully in favor of Mousavi supporters who believe last week's election was stolen.
"There's no debate in the White House. Everybody's on the same page. There's no difference of opinion," Gibbs said.
The New York Times had earlier reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden would like to take a slightly stronger tone in favor of the protestors.