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Video by Sarah DRURY


Latest update : 2009-06-17

US President Barack Obama vowed to pursue tough diplomacy towards Iran but refused to meddle in the current turmoil. The situation remains tense in Tehran, where supporters of President Ahmadinejad and Mirhossein Mousavi staged rival rallies.

AFP - President Barack Obama said Tuesday he would press home his "tough diplomacy" towards Iran whatever the result of its electoral tumult and warned US meddling in Tehran's politics would backfire.

Obama downplayed differences between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his rival Mir Hossein Mousavi to justify his reticence to become deeply involved in escalating post-electoral demonstrations and tension in Iran.
He also pointedly said he believed that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei understood there were deep concerns in Iran about the disputed poll, as the biggest opposition protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution escalated.
"It's important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised," Obama said.
"Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and has been pursuing nuclear weapons," Obama told CNBC television.
He said he hoped Iran's leaders responded to outrage over an election that pro-reform activists say was stolen by Ahmadinejad, not with violence but by respecting the right to peaceful expression.
"Am I optimistic that that will happen? You know -- I take a wait-and-see approach.
"Either way, it's important for the United States to engage in the tough diplomacy around those permanent security concerns that we have -- nuclear weapons, funding of terrorism," Obama said.
"That's not going to go away and I think it's important for to us make sure that we've reached out."
Earlier, after talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak, Obama expressed fresh reservations about the election.
"You have seen in Iran some initial reaction from the supreme leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people had deep concerns about the election," Obama said.
His remarks came as Washington took the unusual step of asking the Twitter micro-blogging site to delay a planned maintenance outage because of its use as a communications tool by Iranians following their disputed election -- a request that seemed to run counter to Obama's public efforts not to appear to be meddling in Iran's internal affairs.
Twitter delayed Monday's scheduled tuneup, which would have taken place during daylight hours in Iran, and rescheduled it for Tuesday.
The site has been used extensively by protestors, especially since the Iranian government shut down other websites, mobile phones and newspapers.
"They announced they were going to shut down their system for maintenance and we asked them not to," a State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
The US president's response to the Iranian turmoil has been noticeably more muted than that of some European allies: French President Nicolas Sarkozy Tuesday described the elections as a "fraud."
Some domestic critics have faulted Obama for not offering sufficient support to protestors in Iran who say their votes for pro-reform candidates were stolen in the disputed re-election of Ahmadinejad.
"He should speak out that this is a corrupt, fraud, sham of an election,"    Obama's defeated 2008 election rival John McCain told NBC.
"The Iranian people have been deprived of their rights. We support them in their struggle against a repressive, oppressive regime," Senator McCain said.
"They should not be subjected to four more years of Ahmadinejad and the radical Muslim clerics."
But the president appears to be balancing a desire to support free speech with the need to preserve US negotiating options with a government he had pledged to engage over its nuclear program.
"It is not productive, given the history of US-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling -- the US president, meddling in Iranian elections," Obama said Tuesday.
But Obama added: "When I see violence directed at peaceful protestors, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed -- wherever that takes place -- it is a concern to me and it is a concern to the American people."
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president was committed to a direct dialogue with Iran over its nuclear ambitions and other US "national interests."
"Our primary concerns are obviously the state sponsorship and the spread of terror and their efforts to secure a nuclear weapon," Gibbs said. "Our interests are no different today than they were before the election."


Date created : 2009-06-17