WASHINGTON - The Obama administration yesterday stuck to a measured response to the uprising in Iran over a disputed presidential election, even as both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly to condemn an official crackdown on mostly peaceful demonstrations in the streets of Tehran.
Administration officials said they remained convinced that the wiser U.S. course was caution over confrontation. President Obama is coming under growing domestic political pressure to speak out more forcefully in support of protesters warned by Iran's supreme leader yesterday to end their huge street rallies.
In the strongest message yet from the U.S. government, the House voted 405-1 to condemn Tehran's crackdown on protest rallies and the government's interference with Internet and cell-phone communications. The Senate followed suit later in the day.
The resolution was initiated by Republicans as a veiled criticism of Obama, who has been reluctant to criticize Tehran's handling of a disputed election that left hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power.
The resolution expresses support for "all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties and rule of law" and affirms "the importance of democratic and fair elections."
It also condemns "the ongoing violence" by the government and pro-government militias against demonstrators, as well as government "suppression of independent electronic communications through interference with the Internet and cell phones."
Obama's chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said the White House welcomed the resolution, calling its language consistent with the president's.
"As the president has said, we're not going to be used as political foils and political footballs in a debate that's happening by Iranians in Iran," Gibbs said. He said the administration's view was that Iranian leaders would use fiercer U.S. support for the protesters to paint them as puppets of the Americans.
"That's not what we're going to do," Gibbs said.
A long-standing source of Iranian anger at the United States is the CIA's role in toppling the elected government of Mohammad Mosaddeq in 1953 and replacing him with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In the 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the shah, student militants occupied the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Obama, who hopes to draw Tehran into talks aimed at curtailing its nuclear ambitions and potentially ending the 29-year-old rupture in diplomatic relations, has stayed mostly neutral on the election dispute. He has spoken in measured terms about supporting Iranians' aspirations to have their voices heard.