Congress condemns Iran's crackdown on protesters

McClatchy NewspapersJune 19, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Congress voted resoundingly Friday to condemn the Iranian government's crackdown on protesters, sending a strong bipartisan signal to the White House that it wants less caution and more outrage.

The House of Representatives voted 405 to 1 to protest the Iranian government's actions, and the Senate followed a few hours later by unanimously endorsing the measure.

The White House said the votes — originally intended by Republicans as an implicit criticism of Obama, but which eventually drew strong bipartisan support — were consistent with its views.

"Obviously we welcome the resolution," said press secretary Robert Gibbs. "We believe, despite the question, that it echoes the words of . . . President Obama throughout the week."

Obama said Monday that while he was "deeply troubled" by the government's efforts to quash the protests, he added "We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran."

In an interview Friday with Harry Smith of CBS News, Obama said that he was "very concerned" with the thrust of the statements made Friday by Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supporting the country's disputed election results, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the winner.

"And I'm very concerned based on some of the tenor — and tone of the statements that have been made — that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching," Obama said. "And how they approach and deal with people who are, through peaceful means, trying to be heard will, I think, send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and — and is not."

The comments came as members of Congress made it clear that they wanted to make a strong statement about the Iranian government's efforts to stifle opposition protests since the June 12 election.

"We may well be witnessing a Tiananmen in Tehran," said Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, referring to the 1989 Chinese government action against student dissidents in Beijing in which hundreds were killed.

"It seems to me," he said, "in this moment, the people of the United States long to be heard."

Democrats wouldn't criticize Obama. However, Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that while the U.S. role isn't to choose the election's winner, the people of Iran "have a fundamental right to express their views about the future of their country freely and without intimidation.

Only Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a libertarian, voted no, explaining that he's "cautious about 'condemning' the actions of governments overseas" because he's "always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives."

The House measure expressed support for "all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and rule of law."

It also tackled Tehran's efforts to crack down on communications, as it "condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the government and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communications through interference with the Internet and cell phones."

The resolution also "affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections."

A few hours after the House debate, the Senate acted quickly, even though no votes had been scheduled for Friday and the chamber had been empty all day. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that senators would agree to back the House measure.

Pushing the quick effort were Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. "By acting now," they said in a joint statement, "Congress sent an unmistakable message of support to the courageous Iranian people at a critical moment in their history."

(Steven Thomma contributed to this article.)

ON THE WEB

House roll call vote

Obama's Monday comments on Iran

Rep. Mike Pence's statement

Rep. Howard Berman's statement

Rep. Ron Paul's statement

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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