[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/06/18/art.cantor0618.gi.jpg caption="House Minority Whip Eric Cantor is criticizing the Obama administration's response to the political unrest in Iran."]
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.
I have mposted a comment 5 times now and it keeps disappearing. what gives CNN? or is this how you open for dialogue? listening only to what you can hear? it is not news.....it is CNN, this should be your mantra.
First of all, Iran is a sovergn nation and the US does not need to stick their noses into Irans business. Second of all, how dare the US condemn what is happening in Iran when 39 years ago they shot and killed their own protesters at Ohio State University, Not to mention all the other deaths that resulted when the youth of America tried to rein in the warlords. The States successfully silenced the protests and to this day continue to enforce their ideals on others while killing innocent people all in the name of capatalist expansion. I doubt this will make it through the mediators as truth is censored in America
There are two parties who have a vested interested in the Iranian affairs, Republicans and their friends at Haliburton KBR
yeah, we don't have enough wars going on we need to blast them and Korea!!! These republicans care more about other countries freedoms than the people of their own country- really I think their all hypocrites-they did not care when they stole the election from gore-they could not do it with Obama because it would have been mass protests like Iran. Republicans do not focus on health care the economy the environment or anything, but they sure do jump in when it concerns another country. because they have no ideas for their own country-all they can talk about is else where.
I can't wait to watch Cantor, McCain, and others quick to criticize Obama on this backpedal when it becomes clear what exactly is going on. Remember how the GOP had to eat their words after slamming Obama about the pirates a few months ago?
This guy is a want-a-be. he complains 24-7 and ironically, he never offer solutions. Somebody please duct tape him to a flag pole for being an idiot.