Democrats urge Obama to keep 'fingerprints' off Iran crisis

Democrats on Sunday defended President Barack Obama's hands-off approach to the crisis in Iran, urging him to keep US "fingerprints" off the unfolding events despite pressure from Republicans for bolder US action, AFP reported.

The showdown in Tehran was the top topic on weekend television talk shows here, with Republicans criticizing Obama for timidity in the face of the most serious upheaval in Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said officials responsible for US clandestine operations had given assurances this week that they had not interfered in the Iranian elections or the ensuing protests.

"I don't think our intelligence candidly is that good," she said in an interview with CNN.

"I think it's a very difficult country in which to collect intelligence right now. So I think our ability to get in there and change the course of human events is very low, to be very candid with you," Feinstein said.

Iranian leaders blamed meddling by the United States and Britain for a week of post-election unrest that has put its country's clerical leadership to an unprecedented test.

Iran's state television said at least 10 people were killed in unrest Saturday when security forces using tear gas and water cannons clashed with protesters. The deaths raised the official toll to at least 17 killed in the past week.

In his strongest statement yet, Obama on Saturday called on the Iranian government to stop "all violent and unjust actions" against protesters but has refrained from more direct attacks on the regime.

"He's certainly moving in the right direction," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has been critical of Obama's cautious approach.

"But our point is that there is a monumental event going on in Iran, and you know, the president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it," he said on ABC television.

"And I appreciate what the president said yesterday, but he's been timid and passive more than I would like, and I hope he will continue to speak truth to power," he said.

Feinstein and other Democrats, however, said Obama had struck the right balance between affirming the rights of protesters while staying out of an unfolding, unpredictable internal upheaval.

"It is very crucial, as I see it, that we not have our fingerprints on this. That this really be truly inspired by the Iranian people," Feinstein said.

"We don't know where this goes. And I sure wouldn't want to be responsible for thousands of people being killed, which is a distinct possibility," she said.

Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said Obama "does not have the luxury of just thinking about the next couple of days. He's got to be able to think about the short-term, the long-term, tactical moves as well as long-term strategy.

"I think he's gotten it right," Casey said.

He added, however, that the US Congress should give Obama authority to impose sanctions on Iran if necessary.

Obama, meanwhile, has not given up on his goal to engage Iran in a dialogue on its nuclear program and other issues.

But Senator Richard Lugar, an influential Republican voice on foreign affairs, said holding talks with the regime now was "totally improbable."

"And the reason is that this regime now is under fire. This is not a stable regime in which people suddenly sit down with the United States. They may not be able to impose their will. This is all about (what's happening) in the streets," he said on CNN.

Lugar said the protests in Iran might open "a new opportunity in which we might very well say we want communication with Iran."

But the question of how to proceed has grown more complex, he said, "because we don't know what the outcome of the challenge of the regime is going to be -- and that is, who is going to be governing Iran? That's the question."

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