WASHINGTON (CNN) - A top congressional Republican on Thursday joined critics of the White House's response to Iran's disputed presidential election, saying the United States has a "moral responsibility" to condemn attacks on protesters.
"The administration's position that what's going on in Iran is a 'vigorous debate' is absurd," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said in a statement released Thursday. "People are being brutalized and murdered by the regime in Tehran. We have no idea exactly how many have died or have been seriously injured, since the regime has restricted journalists. In no way do these actions constitute a 'vigorous debate.'"
The congressman from Virginia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, added that "America has a moral responsibility to stand up for these brave people, to defend human rights, and to condemn the violence and abuses by the regime in Tehran."
Obama said Monday he was "deeply troubled" by the violent protests that followed Friday's vote, which official results show resulted in the re-election of hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But he avoided siding with Ahmadinejad's opponents, telling reporters that "It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be."
Tuesday, he added, "It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling, the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs defended that approach Thursday, telling reporters Obama "believes that he's struck the right tone."
"I know some people agree with what Sen. McCain said. Some people agree with what other Republicans have said that's very much like the president's position," Gibbs said. "The president strongly believes that we should - and have - spoken out to ensure the demonstrators have the universal right and principle to demonstrate without fear of harm. But at the same time, we have to respect their sovereignty."
Obama's opponent in last year's presidential race, Sen. John McCain, said Wednesday that the president's stated desire to avoid meddling in the Iranian elections sends the wrong message.
"On this issue, I do not believe that the president is taking a leadership (role) that is incumbent upon an American president, which we have throughout modern history, and that is to advocate for human rights and freedom - and free elections are one of those fundamentals," the Arizona Republican told CNN's "American Morning."
But Moorhead Kennedy, a former diplomat who was among the hostages held in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and 1980, told the same program Thursday that "If we have to hold back from interfering in any country, it should be Iran."
"I think if I had any conclusion to draw, we would have been much better off not interfering in Iran now," he said. Because the United States backed a 1953 coup that put Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in charge, and supported him until the 1979 revolution that created today's Islamic republic, Kennedy said, "There are a great many resentments there."
McCain said he wasn't calling for any American "meddling" by demanding free elections and human rights. But Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Washington would be making an "enormous mistake" by taking sides in the Iranian protests.
"There is no need for the United States of America to step into the middle of it and make this about America," Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, told CNN's "The Situation Room."
"It is an Iranian moment, spurred on by Iranians, thoroughly supported by Iranians to the degree that the supreme ayatollah has now backed off his own support for the elections (and) called for an investigation," he said.
– CNN's Paul Steinhauser, Deirdre Walsh, Peter Hamby and Dan Lothian contributed to this report.
Updated: 8:04 p.m.
It's nice to see someone in Washington with a little common sense, who sees brutality for what it is and not a debate. President Obama's messaging reminds me of some of the messaging of the old Soviet Pravda newspaper.
Why are they always soooooo agressive and want to cause a war. The party of no needs to chill out and cool off. Look what happened in Iraq, we'll be there forever.
FUNNY, EVERY SINGLE EXPERT on this matter are saying he is doing the right thing, EVERY SINGLE EXPERT!!! NOT ONE expert has said its not right thing to do. So why would ANYONE in their right mind listen to a loud mouth KNOW NOTHING group of repukes that would slam Obama if he cured cancer...I dont think these repukes have any grasp on reality any more. Its pathetic and sad!
Stick to coming up with a healthcare bill and stay out of this conversation Can'tor. If it were up to your party, we'll probably be at war with Iran.
Easy Eric, Obama can't chastise Iran after just bowing down and apologizing to them...and the muslim brotherhood. What we need as a president is a REAL AMERICAN.
So did the world meddle in our 2000 and 2004 elections, the irregularitis that elected George W. Bush. They are already blaming us interferring, many Iranian scholars are saying what Obama is doing is the right way, Bush would have had us in the middle of their mess.
Sure, we need another War going on, with North Korea acting up like they are. The Iranian people seem to be quite capable of taking care of their own business without our help. I think most of the reasonable Iranians know where we stand, but would resent our interference in their internal affairs. They didn't interfere in our 2000 fixed election, did they?
Another Republican moron.
President Obama has handled that situation well. He has not interfered with their process. Even the students in Iran have praised him for that.
Cantor is just like McCain–all stupidity and mouth! Neither one has a clue what's going on over there.
Yea Cantor....Say it like it is!
We should send in our jets RIGHT NOW! It's our job to get into this war RIGHT NOW! Let's send in the troops, break out the space shuttle to do fly overs and bombing runs! Let's go, let's go, let's go! I want to kill people TODAY. Let's not waste time when it comes to launching our Missiles! We MUST go to war TODAY! This is just SILLY taking your time to make reasonable decisions and get more information.
The world and how it operates is OUR business. And we MUST decide everything that goes on in EVERY nation. The world will love us for it! Especially if we rush to judgement and act on precursory information rather then absolute facts.
Yeah, let's butt in and get ourselves mixed up in it. I mean it's not like we have a faltering economy, North Korea threatening us or two wars going on right now. But hey, lets move more resources into sticking our nose in Iran's business.
Seriously CNN, you guys need to find some better adjectives to describe someone's verbal swipe at another person. All you guys use are SLAM, BLASTS, AIMS. Let's use our broader vocabulary people.
I meant verbs....duh
Republicans complain about having no money for programs that help the USA, such as health care, but they are all about starting yet another war which will cost just as much money. Where do we get the money for another war? Do we want health care, or do we want war? How about we let the Iranians deal with Iran? I personally don't care if military contractors make more money from war and oil contractors reap the benefits from another war in a desert. Screw these guys!
We have no place in the Iran issue......please shut up and do something that is good for America...or did you forget where you live!!!
The republicans are so out of touch with what main street wants and needs!
Aw, that's cute, Republicans attempting to paint Obama as anti human rights.
I wonder if we have ignored other countries who are having similar if not worse issues than Iran over the past eight years?
Rwanda comes to mind.....
"The congressman from Virginia, the number two Republican in the House, added that "America has a moral responsibility to stand up for these brave people, to defend human rights, and to condemn the violence and abuses by the regime in Tehran.":"
No you morons... the United states DOES NOT have a moral responsibility to stand up for them. It's their election, their country, THEIR problem. Leave them alone, live and let live...and all that other good stuff. The US has enough of our own problems without getting involved in everyone elses...look where it's gotten us!
The Republicans need to take the lead on foreign police issues. We have one war winding down, we need to start another.
The elections in any country other than the United States of America is NONE of our business. True..the results are of concern. But, still none of our business and we cannot (should not) be sticking our nose into another country's election process. Cantor is another word for "NO".
Bo Bo should send some of his hired-help ACORN thugs over there.
Security detail would be club carrying Black Panther members, then simply direct ACORN to arrange the winner of Bo Bo's choice.
Better check back on just how well the Bush Foreign policy worked, there Eric. You sound a lot like it – it's very scary. I'd rather see the United Nations address it.
No peep from Jimmy Carter on this one? Isn't he the "fair elections" guru?
I can't think of a better way to galvanize the Iranian people and end this grassroots movement toward true democracy than for the President of the United States to do what McCain and Cantor have suggested. The Iranian people would very quickly rally around their flag if the United States was seen to overtly put our nose where it doesn't belong. This is just another example of the Republicans being contrary just for the sake of being contrary and demonstrating how stupid they are.
Can we have another story please. It is the same Republicans that speak against the President every day. Please CNN we are tried of hearing from the same Republicans complaining about the President didn't do this and that.
Yeah, let's throw another Shah in there, you pinhead.
Thank God McCain did not win the election, we would have bombed Iran.
How can someone say that an election was filled with fraud? What evidence do you have that the election was rigged? Do you know something that we don't? We DID NOT have any observers watching the election, so how do we know again I ask if it was fraud? This is an internal struggle.
You old school, bomb everything, your thinking is archaic. Why didn't you speak up when Bush stole the election from Gore? If you believe in Democratic principles then you should have stood up to Bush and his Supreme Court and say, you are wrong Bush. You did not win the election.........shut up!