JIM LEHRER: In Washington, President Obama issued his strongest statement yet on the situation in Iran. He spoke at a White House news conference.
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats and the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.
This is what we’ve witnessed. We’ve seen the timeless dignity of tens of thousands of Iranians marching in silence. We’ve seen people of all ages risk everything to insist that their votes are counted and that their voices are heard.
Above all, we’ve seen courageous women stand up to the brutality and threats, and we’ve experienced the searing image of a woman bleeding to death on the streets.
So let me open it up for questions, and I’ll start you, Jen.
JOURNALIST: Thank you, Mr. President. Your administration has said that the offer to talk to Iran’s leaders remains open. Can you say if that’s still so, even with all the violence that has been committed by the government against the peaceful protesters?
BARACK OBAMA: What we’ve been seeing over the last several days, the last couple of weeks, obviously, is not encouraging in terms of the path that this regime may choose to take. We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed.
JOURNALIST: In your opening remarks, sir, you said about Iran that you were appalled and outraged. What took you so long to say those words?
BARACK OBAMA: I don’t think that’s accurate. Track what I’ve been saying. Right after the election, I said that we had profound concerns about the nature of the election but that it was not up to us to determine what the outcome was.
As soon as violence broke out — in fact, in anticipation of potential violence — we were very clear in saying that violence was unacceptable, that that was not how governments operate with respect to their people. So we’ve been entirely consistent, Major, in terms of how we’ve approached this.
My role has been to say, the United States is not going to be a foil for the Iranian government to try to blame what’s happening on the streets of Tehran on the CIA or on the White House, that this is an issue that is led by and given voice to the frustrations of the Iranian people.
JOURNALIST: Following up on Major’s question, some Republicans on Capitol Hill — John McCain and Lindsey Graham, for example — have said that up to this point your response on Iran has been timid and weak. Today it sounded a lot stronger. Were you influenced at all by John McCain and Lindsey Graham accusing you of being timid and weak?
BARACK OBAMA: What do you think?
Look, you know, I think John McCain has genuine passion about many of these international issues. And, you know, I think that all of us share a belief that we want justice to prevail.
But only I’m the president of the United States. And I’ve got responsibilities in making certain that we are continually advancing our national security interests and that we are not used as a tool to be exploited by other countries.
And so I think that, in the hot house of Washington, there may be all kinds of stuff going back and forth in terms of Republican critics versus the administration. That’s not what is relevant to the Iranian people. What’s relevant to them right now is, are they going to have their voices heard?
JOURNALIST: Over the weekend, we saw a shocking video of this woman, Neda, who had been shot in the chest…
BARACK OBAMA: Right…
JOURNALIST: Have you seen this video? And what’s your reaction?
BARACK OBAMA: I have. It’s heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking. And I think that anybody who sees it knows that there’s something fundamentally unjust about that.
And I think it’s important for us to make sure that — that we let the Iranian people know that we are watching what’s happening, that they are not alone in this process.