(CNSNews.com) – After taking flak for days from some conservative quarters for his approach to the turmoil in Iran, President Obama on Tuesday declared himself “appalled and outraged” by Tehran’s response to the post-election protests, but repeatedly declined to say whether there would be any consequences, or shifts in U.S. policy, as a result.
Even on the symbolic issue of this year’s unprecedented decision to invite diplomats of the Islamic Republic to Fourth of July receptions at U.S. embassies – in keeping with the administration’s engagement policy – Obama suggested the invitations stood despite recent developments.
“I think that we have said that if Iran chooses a path that abides by international norms and principles, then we are interested in healing some of the wounds of 30 years in terms of U.S.-Iranian relations,” he said at a White House press conference Tuesday in response to a question on the July 4th invitations. “But that is a choice that the Iranians are going to have to make.”
Asked again whether the invitation offer still stood, Obama repeated, “That’s a choice the Iranians are going to have to make.”
It remains unclear whether any Iranian diplomats will take up – or be permitted to take up – the invitations.
State Department spokesmen say U.S. embassies are this year allowed for the first time to invite Iranians, but that the decision is up to individual heads of mission. They have not released information on which have done so. “Generally, we don’t discuss or release invitation lists,” spokesman Ian Kelly said on June 9.
On Monday, asked whether it was still appropriate to have Iranians attend the functions, Kelly said, “there’s no thought to rescinding the invitations … we have made a strategic decision to engage on a number of fronts with Iran, and we tried many years of isolation and we’re pursuing a different path now.”
Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday the U.S. should withdraw the invitations.
“I am stunned that some find it appropriate for U.S. officials to commingle with officials, representatives and agents of the Iranian regime this Independence Day,” she said in a statement.
“What kind of message does this send to the Iranian people, who are bravely standing up for the same rights and freedoms which Americans celebrate on this day?”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Obama was asked several times about consequences for the Iranian government’s recent actions.
Asked, “is there any red line that your administration won’t cross, where that offer [to talk to Iran’s leaders] will be shut off?,” Obama replied, “We’re still waiting to see how it plays itself out … We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed.”
Asked, “so, should there be consequences for what's happened so far?” Obama did not directly answer, other than to say that how Tehran handles the dissent “ will help shape the tone not only for Iran’s future but also its relationship to other countries.”
Later, the president was asked again, “You have avoided twice spelling out consequences … why won’t you spell out the consequences …?”
He replied, “Because I think, Chuck [Todd of NBC], that we don't know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not, okay?”
“But shouldn’t – I mean, shouldn't the world and Iran –”
“Chuck, I answered –”
“But shouldn’t the Iranian regime know that there are consequences?”
“I answered the question, Chuck, which is that we don't yet know how this is going to play out.”
Mixed views on Obama’s handling of issue
Obama’s stance on the ferment in Iran unleashed by the disputed June 12 presidential election has drawn widely divergent reactions, even among Republicans and conservative analysts.
While leading GOP senators, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), have been critical, others like Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Mel Martinez (Fla.) have been more approving of Obama approach.
Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs in the George W. Bush administration, said Obama had handled the situation “superbly,” calling his approach “thoughtful, measured, and serious.”
“The Obama policy of extending an open hand to Iran is working and ought not be abandoned because of the grim events in Tehran,” columnist and former presidential aspirant Pat Buchanan argued in a recent column.
On the other hand, Ilan Berman, editor of the American Foreign Policy Council publication, Iran Democracy Monitor, said Monday Obama should “put Iran’s regime on notice that its place in the international community hinges on how it treats its political opposition during the current crisis.”
“President Obama should say now that future American dealings with Iran will be strongly influenced by the way the Iranian government deals with the demonstrators, including the ones they have arrested, and that the United States always takes into account the civil and human rights of the populations of countries with which we wish to engage,” the Washington-based Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs argued earlier.
Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in an article published on Tuesday, before Obama’s press conference, said the president had “promised to transform America’s image in the world.”
“Excising freedom and liberty from our brand is not the way to do it,” he said. “Remaining silent is not neutral; it is casting a vote for the status quo, including the primacy of the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.”