(CBS) Responding to reports of continued violence in Tehran, following a warning by Iran's Supreme Leader that further election protests may lead to "bloodshed and chaos," President Barack Obama said today, "The Iranian government must understand that the world is watching.
With the tensions rising in Iran, Mr. Obama is monitoring the situation with senior advisors, but he continues to maintain his reserve on the topic. Rather than directly criticizing the Iranian government's actions, he expressed more lofty thoughts.
In a statement released this afternoon by the White House, the president said, "We mourn each and every innocent life that is lost. We call on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people. The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected, and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights.
"As I said in Cairo, suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion.
"Martin Luther King once said, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I believe that. The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples' belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."
As the election protests have played out this past week, the president has received criticism by some for evincing a tone that was judged too soft.
For example, on Fox News Senator John McCain said, "People are being killed and beaten in the streets of Tehran and all over Iran, and we should stand up for them … the way we stood up for the Polish workers in Gdansk, the way we stood up for the people of then Czechoslovakia in the Prague Spring, and we have stood up for freedom in every part of the world. We're not doing that."
In a nutshell, Mr. Obama doesn't want to provide President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the ammunition needed to make the United States a bad actor in his play by accusing Washington of interfering with Iran's internal political process.
In an interview Friday with CBS News' Harry Smith, Mr. Obama said, "The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That's what they do. That's what we've already seen. We shouldn't be playing into that. There should be no distractions from the fact that the Iranian people are seeking to let their voices be heard.
"Now, what we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the, you know, incredible demonstrations that we've seen is a testimony to, I think, what Dr. King called the arc of the moral universe. It's long but it bends towards justice."
"If Barack Obama were sounding like John McCain, the tanks would have been in the streets days ago, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people killed, and a ready excuse that would have great credibility with the Iranian people: the U.S. was at it again, trying to foment a revolution to overthrow the duly elected government of Iran."
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