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Obama Administration Defends Stance on Iran Election Crisis


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 crisis.

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.

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