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Obama Urges Peaceful Response to Protests in Mideast


President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference on the White House complex in Washington, February 15, 2011

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference on the White House complex in Washington, February 15, 2011

President Barack Obama has again criticized Iran's government for its crackdown on opposition protesters. The president used a news conference to address ramifications for the Middle East following what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, and also responded to criticisms of the $3.73 trillion budget he sent to Congress this week.

President Obama said governments must respond peacefully to peaceful protests in the wake of the anti-government rallies in Egypt that brought down former President Hosni Mubarak and a series of protests in other countries in the region in recent days, where authorities have cracked down. Mr. Obama said people must be allowed to voice their grievances.

The president turned to Iran where the government broke up an opposition rally on Monday.

"I find it ironic that you've got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact, they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully," said Obama.

Obama reiterated that real change in societies "is not going to happen because of terrorism… or killing innocents," but by people coming together and applying moral force.

On Iran, Obama said he was clear after mass demonstrations following Iran's elections in 2009, and is clear now, that people should be able to express grievances and seek a more responsive government.

Saying America cannot "ultimately dictate," but can lend moral support, he said the U.S. is concerned about stability in the region, but sends a consistent message.

"The message that we have sent, even before the demonstrations in Egypt, has been to friend and foe alike, that the world is changing, that you have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East, that is looking for greater opportunity and that if you are governing these countries, you have got to get out ahead of change, you can't be behind the curve," added Obama.

Obama rejected suggestions that his administration was too cautious in supporting protesters in Egypt. "History will end up recording" he said that at "every juncture" the U.S. was on the right side of history.

What will achieve stability in the Middle East, he said, is for governments to provide avenues for mobility and opportunity, adding he believes governments are starting to understand that they cannot maintain power through coercion.

President Obama also addressed the dispute with Pakistan over a jailed U.S. diplomat, Raymond Davis, who has been accused of killing two people. He said the matter involves the broader principle of diplomatic immunity that must be upheld, saying the U.S. has been "very firm" about the need for Mr. Davis's release.

The president also addressed criticism by opposition Republicans of his $3.73 trillion 2012 fiscal year budget, which proposes what he calls "tough choices," but which he says would result in no additions to the $14 trillion national debt by the middle of the decade.

Saying he is ready to work with Republicans, Mr. Obama rejected "symbolic cuts" he says might endanger economic recovery. He said there will be tough negotiations on the budget, and on the larger issues of huge government "entitlement" programs, Medicare and Social Security.

"The key thing that I think the American people want to see is that all sides are serious about it, and all sides are willing to give a little bit, and that there is a genuine spirit of compromise as opposed to people being interested in scoring political points," Obama said.

On proposed cuts to some government programs that help lower income citizens, the president said he feels people's pain, adding he is both inspired by people's strength, but also frustrated by the number of people struggling in the current economy.

Mr. Obama said his budget reflects growth in the economy and more business confidence now that the U.S. economy has moved away from crisis. However, he says the job ahead is to look at medium and long term problems in a much more urgent and serious way.

The president said recommendations of a bipartisan fiscal commission, which proposed drastic cuts to deal with deficit spending and the debt, provided a "framework" for tough conversations.

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