June 15th, 2009
08:15 PM ET
5 years ago

Obama 'deeply troubled' by Iran protests


WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama said Monday he was "deeply troubled" by the violent protests that have followed Iran's disputed presidential election, but said it was up to Iranians to choose their own leaders.

"It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be," Obama told reporters at the White House. "We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran."

"Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence I've been seeing on television," he added. "I think that the democratic process, free speech, the ability of people to peacefully dissent - all those are universal values and need to be respected."

The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, and their historic ties are strained from a U.S.-backed coup in 1953 and Washington's longtime support of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, who came to power in the coup. Pahlavi was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution that established the current Iranian government, which came to power calling the Washington the "Great Satan."

Official results of Friday's vote showed hardline incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning a second term by a 2-to-1 margin over challenger Mir Hossein Moussavi, a former prime minister. Obama did not take a position on the claims of fraud that have brought Moussavi's supporters onto the streets, but he said, "The Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected."

"Whenever I see violence perpetrated on people who are peacefully dissenting, and whenever the American people see that, I think they are rightfully troubled," he said. "I think it would be wrong for me to be silent about what we've seen on the television over the last few days."

Obama said those "who put so much hope and energy and optimism into the political process" should know "that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was."

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the lack of election monitors on the ground has made verifiable information difficult to obtain. But he said some elements of the results - including Ahmadinejad's reported win in Moussavi's home province - have raised "early indications" of fraud.

Iranian officials have denied the claims. The country's Guardian Council, which oversees elections, has said it would investigate, but Moussavi told supporters in an online statement Monday that the council had not remained neutral and "I don't have any hope in them."

An Iranian official who asked to remain unidentified told CNN that Moussavi was not popular in his hometown of Tabriz, in the country's north, and said allegations that the Guardian Council was in Ahmadinejad's corner are "unfair and unfounded."

– CNN Correspondent Brian Todd contributed to this report.

Updated: 8:15 p.m.


Filed under: Iran • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Marty, FL

    President Obama respectfully achieved a constructive approach to this situation, taking great care to recognize universal understanding without disrupting Iran's process. It was the correct tone and another commendable job in handling our foreign policy, knowing we have to work with the outcome.

    This is in sharp contrast to the nonsense asserted into this volatile circumstance by neocons, including Mitt Romney. There are questionable concerns, but it is not our government's place to insert into other countries' elections. Let the process work itself out by the Iranian people.

    June 15, 2009 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  2. Jon from S.Carolina

    This is a sad day for Iran. Americans need to take notice that the image of Iran that the Bush administration painted isn't who these people are. These people want peace and change, to bad their government doesn't.

    June 15, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  3. mahadeo wayal

    Iran has changed since the revolution. What youth movement did here is the same there.One thing for sure roots of democracy are firm in Iran and all other middle eastern kings and queens may take a note of this.This democracy movement has not been imposed on Iranians,like what U.S. did in Iraq.Now the whole cleric is on notice for sure and that too without a war.
    Congratulations to the youth of Iran. We are watching.

    June 15, 2009 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  4. Zohreh Iravanimanesh

    Mr. Obama's statement was so very disappointing today. It was similar to a doctor who is passing by an accident and tells the injured person who needs urgent care that sorry that you're dying but I'm not your doctor and it's not my responsibility to help you. :@
    It's not about the government anymore, it's about the people getting harassed, hurt and murdered. he should have taken a very firm stand against that. These are the same people who you call terrorists and are being discriminated against all over the world because of their government's wrongdoings. Do you even know that Iranian government hires Arab terrorists to kill my people right now? Do you even know that some of the plain clothes garbages who shoot people and beat them up and have been captured by people did not even speak Farsi? Where were you when Sadam was bombing us by chemical weapons and now what your president is doing now? We don't need your military help or anything of that kind, but your president refused to show some decency to say the right thing. I did not vote for him because I was not a citizen then, but if I did, I would ask for my vote back today. :-|

    A very disapointed Iranian citizen

    June 15, 2009 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  5. 444 Days

    Let's finish this! Let's send our men and women over the border from Iraq and finally avenge 1979! Destroy the Muslim regime and put an end to Government by myth and superstition! REMEMBER THE 52 FOR 444 IN '79!

    June 15, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  6. Sassan Persian

    America and the Western countries need to support the people and unanimously say they are behind the Iranian people. There needs to be a stop to this bloodshed.

    June 15, 2009 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  7. Bill

    President Obama I know you have a lot on your plate but to be honest please bee deeply troubled over the good citzens of this country who have always paid there bills and now have lost there jobs and will lose there homes.

    June 15, 2009 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  8. aliousalam

    I was deeply troubled by Al Gore's loss to Bush and with reason. The courts confirmed the irregularities, but I didn't take to the streets because this is a country of laws.

    That people take the law into their own hands should not be applauded any where. We shouldn't stop them, if that's the way they want to do it, but we have no lesson of democracy to give to anyone.

    I still say, if Algore had been prez. instead of Bush, we woudn't be in this mess. I feel the pain of people who can't change things when they want to, but we can't encourage people not to accept defeat. Either way, it is bad for a country.

    Oppositions in other countries should learn to regroup and be creative like Obama did, rather than use the masses for their selfish interest.

    Give me a break, this is a guy who was prime minister and Iran was no better then. What does he have to give now that he couldn't give before?

    Use your head and stop being bigots.

    June 15, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  9. Peter

    There is a leader for you. He seems to be "deeply troubled" by so many things. That's OK, as long as we remain at piece and his liberal constiituency can be happy, we will all be OK. We can just look for more "moderate Taliban", or maybe send Kim some roses. That is our problem, we are just not nice enough. If only we were nicer, everyone would be a friend of the U.S. Let's all hold hands and I'm sure there rogue states and terror groups will feel enough guilt and shame to drop their maniacl tendencies and nuclear ambitions. After all, Obama is such a nice guy.

    June 15, 2009 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  10. Squirt

    What a bunch of ....I don't know the word, I am at a loss! For the life of me, I cannot understand the surprise around the world at the result of the Irani "election!" Akhmadinejad and Kameini have manipulated the system for one end and no other—to keep control of Iran, thereby continuing to keep the Middle East off balance. That is NOT new, it is NOT a surprise and it certainly is NOT a democracy by any standard!

    The result may well be that now they've bred a very large faction of zealots who could work against everything the Akhmadinejad administration stands for and maybe they'll do anything to topple it....their enemy could really now be within, and that enemy now is not so easily recognized! Now, EVERY intelligence agency that wants information about their nuclear facilities may now have a field day...there will likely be no classifed information about anything in Iran—there will be a fire sale for practically anything. I would be SUPER worried were I now an Irani official in any capacity at any level.

    June 15, 2009 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  11. Mike

    Ha ha. Why is this President always "deeply troubled" by everything except the balooning national debit?

    June 15, 2009 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  12. philo

    This whole affair has shown us that Iran is not some backward evil enemy of the West, it is more narrowly confined to the Amhmadinejad Regime. He and the hardline members of the Supreme Council are the ones who are the enemies of the West. A vast number of the people of Iran are a educated, and progressive They are not that different from us, they want the same thing, to have a fair an honest say in the forces that rule over their lives. They are not an "other" to be demonized. This is why there should not be any military strike on Iran by the US or Israel. We would be attacking and killing the very moderates that we want to flourish in the region. It will take time, but the Iranians will stand up and take their own freedom back.

    Obama's reaction was perfectly measured. He back the oposition by asserting their natural rights to peacefully assemble and dissent, but did not openly endorse the oppositions claim because it would feed into the hands of the pro-Ahmadinejad assertions that this is caused by outside foreign forces. Brillant approach Mr. President.....

    June 15, 2009 10:40 pm at 10:40 pm |
  13. Kenyan Wonder Kid

    Hussein is "deeply troubled" by a lot of things these days (NKorean nukes; NKorean missles; Iran nukes; Iran election, not to mention a rash of domestic issues.). O'man missed a HUGE opportunity by NOT standing up for the Iranian people. Instead of a "Berlin Wall" moment, his linguini-spined response is responsible for supporting and proppinng up a terrorist regime. "Iran must chose their own leaders" – what the hell does that mean??

    Yes, Obama is a weak and deeply troubled president. We need a strong and confident president.

    We need Ronald Reagan; we have Ronald "Deeply Troubled" McDonald...

    June 15, 2009 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  14. Zero.

    Obama deeply troubled with his past. 90% of it is Fake.

    June 15, 2009 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  15. Tamika

    He's deeply troubled ???? I'm deeply troubled everyday by the damage this man (Obama) is doing to this country the consequences of which will be paid for by this generation and those to follow for decades to come. 2012 can't come soon enough.

    June 15, 2009 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  16. ann

    obama shows what a woos he is. first see where the wind is blowing before you take a stand.

    June 15, 2009 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  17. Don

    Stop worrying about Iran and start worrying about Korea

    June 16, 2009 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  18. Peter E

    Yes, and with the presidential elections of the past decade we are in such a good position to lecture others about election fraud!...

    June 16, 2009 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  19. Limbaugh is a liberal

    For someone who only got nominated and elected by kissing up to Ted Kennedy, Obama sure likes to put down others for their corrupt election!

    June 16, 2009 12:26 am at 12:26 am |
  20. Brian

    A civil war is what Iran needs to overcome the tyranny of its dictators

    June 16, 2009 12:28 am at 12:28 am |
  21. S. K.

    This is what America should have looked like on the eve of the Bush/Cheney elections...

    June 16, 2009 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  22. Mike Stump

    I am proud to have this man as my president. It is nice to hear such great words of support for a people trying to create their own democracy.

    Keep an eye out everyone, the world is undergoing a serious change right now, and I don't mean the kind the people use in campaign slogans.

    - re-birthed proud American

    June 16, 2009 12:45 am at 12:45 am |
  23. Joe

    I for one think it is GREAT!!! that the people of Iran are fighting for their rights. I am however worried for them at the same time. Everyones voice deserves to be heard, men, women, children everyone. My thoughts and prayers will be with the people of Iran this evening in hopes that their voices will be heard and that they all remain healthy and safe.

    June 16, 2009 12:49 am at 12:49 am |
  24. Lagos R.

    As empty and weak as Obama can sometimes sound (especially on the foreign policy front), I think that he put things about as well as you can given the current situation and did a nice job of not ticking people off while not completely whitewashing the issue.

    Regardless of legitimate skepticism towards the election results, this is another country's psudo-democracy and we have to respect their process. If there's allegations of voter fraud, it is not up to us to point it out or investigate. That being said, Ahmadinejad is not at all a constructive figure towards the stability of the middle east or middle-eastern/Western relations.

    June 16, 2009 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
  25. Anthony Seta

    Just please play it cool prez Obama. Our primary concern during this Iranian domestic crisis must be our own forces in the region in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. Be prepared for any and every eventuality that could affect our people, but the Iranians will have be determine their own future.

    The Iranian people aren't necessarily protesting for freedom in the streets of Tehran, but rather simply internal misjustice. They are a nationalistic people and will prefer to resolve their domestic matters via their own institutions and laws. Therefore, it is important to walk a fine line and maintain diplomatic neutrality. There can not be an overt perception of US endorsement of a particular candidate. The GOP will be relentless to paint you as weak and ineffective every minute of the day to control the narrative. But the GOP has read this recent event incorrectly. Ultimately when all is said and done, the prez will have the last laugh and the ultimate gain from his initiatives to the people of Iran.

    June 16, 2009 01:12 am at 1:12 am |
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