Iran General NewsObama 'strongly condemns' Iran, says not interfering

Obama ‘strongly condemns’ Iran, says not interfering

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ImageAFP: US President Barack Obama Tuesday stepped up criticism of Iran's regime, saying he "strongly condemned" its crackdown on street protests but denying he was interfering in the deepening crisis.

By Stephen Collinson

ImageWASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Barack Obama Tuesday stepped up criticism of Iran's regime, saying he "strongly condemned" its crackdown on street protests but denying he was interfering in the deepening crisis.

In a White House news conference, Obama also said there were "significant questions" about hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election and said the world was "appalled" by the regime's violence against protests.

"I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost," Obama said in some of his toughest comments to date on the crisis rocking Iran.

"I have made it clear that the United States respects the sovereignty of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and is not at all interfering in Iran's affairs," Obama said.

"But we must also bear witness to the courage and dignity of the Iranian people, and to a remarkable opening within Iranian society," he said.

Obama paid tribute to the women of Iran, pointing to the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a bystander who was apparently shot in the chest and died bleeding on the street in a grisly death flashed around the world on the Internet.

"We have seen courageous women stand up to brutality and threats, and we have experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets," Obama said.

"While this loss is raw and painful, we also know this: those who stand up for justice are always on the right side of history," he said.

Obama has pursued a carefully calibrated position towards Iran, balancing sympathy with protestors with a desire not to be seen "meddling" in the affairs of an arch-foe Washington suspects of developing nuclear weapons.

Obama said he was waiting to see how the turmoil "plays itself out" and affects Tehran's prospects for engaging with the international community.

Obama has made reaching out to US foes a key part of his foreign policy. He sent an unprecedented message to Iranians in March seeking reconciliation after three decades of hostility.

Prominent Republicans including Senator John McCain, his opponent in last year's presidential election, have called on Obama to take a more visible stand in support of the demonstrations.

Obama rejected their calls, saying that the clerical regime was already accusing Washington of interference and he would not give them "the narrative that the Iranian government would love to play into."

"In the hothouse of Washington, there may be all kinds of stuff going back and forth in terms of Republican critics versus the administration. That's not what is relevant to the Iranian people," Obama said.

With pundits predicting Obama's political honeymoon will soon cede to a tough slog to enact key reforms like healthcare and financial regulation, Obama was also looking for a swift jolt of political momentum.

He predicted US unemployment would likely climb above 10 percent, as the country battles its worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, but said a new economic stimulus package was "not yet" needed.

The president also offered his full support for legislation on climate change which the US Congress is prepared to put ahead to a vote.

The president, who has sharply reversed course from his predecessor George W. Bush on global warming, said it was "extraordinarily important" to approve the bill requiring cuts in greenhouse gases despite an economic recession.

"At a time of great fiscal challenges, this legislation is paid for by the polluters who currently emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air we breathe," he said.

Obama also called for action on health care, urging action to bring millions of uninsured Americans into the system while containing the soaring costs that have been a growing burden to the world's largest economy.

"When it comes to health care, the status quo is unsustainable," Obama said.

"Reform is not a luxury, it is a necessity. And so I hope that Congress will continue to make significant progress on this issue in the weeks ahead," he said.

Tuesday's event was Obama's fourth solo White House news conference since taking office in January and his first such event since the end of April, when he went before the cameras to mark his symbolic first 100 days in office.

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