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US Congress Condemns Violence Against Demonstrators in Iran

The U.S. Congress has condemned the Iranian government's crackdown on demonstrators protesting the result of the recent election. The U.S. Senate acted Friday after an earlier nearly unanimous vote by the U.S. House of Representatives.

The 405 to 1 vote was the strongest expression of support yet from the U.S. Congress for demonstrators who have been protesting the result of Iran's disputed election that left President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.

It was also the culmination of a week of political maneuvering during which minority Republicans in Congress criticized President Barack Obama for not taking a stronger public stand on events in Iran.

The resolution expressed support for "all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and rule of law" and affirms "the importance of democratic and fair elections." Lawmakers also condemn what they call "the ongoing violence" by the government and pro-government militias against demonstrators, and the Iranian government's "suppression of independent electronic communications through interference with the Internet and cell phones."

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democrat Howard Berman agreed to bring the resolution, which was sponsored by Republican Representative Mike Pence, to the House floor. "It is not for us to decide who should run Iran, much less determine the real winner of the June 12 election. But we must reaffirm our strong belief that the Iranian people have a fundamental right to express their views about the future of their country freely and without intimidation," he said.

In their own floor statements, Republican lawmakers reiterated their position that a strong expression of support for Iranian demonstrators is called for.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said more forceful statements are justified by what she called the "brutal nature of the Iranian regime": "We must focus on the hopes of the individual Iranians who have been robbed of a better future for almost 30 years, by a regime which only promises nothing but misery and malaise," she said.

Republicans also used a news conference before the House vote to drive home their point that the U.S. has a special role in promoting democratic causes around the world.

Congressman Pence was asked about compromises necessary to bring the resolution to the floor that resulted in somewhat milder language than was in the original draft. "I was amenable, in the course of our discussions about the factual elements, the so-called "whereas" clauses that they might be susceptible to being used for propaganda purposes by the regime in Tehran and we had no interest in that. Our interest here, our purposes from the outset, was to give the American people an opportunity to condemn the violence, condemn the repression of a free and independent press and ultimately to speak a word of support to the brave men and women on the streets of Tehran," he said.

The only vote against the resolution was cast by Representative Ron Paul, who although a Republican considers himself a political libertarian.

While condemning "attempts by foreign governments to suppress the democratic aspirations of their people," he said he admired President Obama's cautious approach to the situation in Iran, and said U.S. criticism of other countries was often "selective" when making a political point.