President Obama has said "it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be." This stance has riled some Republicans who are urging the president to show solidarity with Moussavi supporters. To explain his view, The Takeaway is joined by Congressman Mike Pence, Republican from Indiana and Chairman of the House Republican Conference. He has introduced a resolution in Congress to express support for the protesters. We also have Professor Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University and author of Iran: A People Interrupted, for his take.
FEMI OKE: We have been following the election in Iran all week, and the disputed results of course. The protests continued today, and President Obama has said he doesn't want to interfere.
Recording of President Obama: It is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be. We respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran.
FEMI OKE: But some Republicans are urging the President to show solidarity with Moussavi supporters. Joining us now is Mike Pence. He's a Republican from Indiana and chairman of the House Republican Conference. Good morning, Congressman.
REP. MIKE PENCE: Good morning, Katherine, Femi. It's good to be on The Takeaway.
FEMI OKE: It's good to have you. Tell us, what is your issue with the Obama administration's stance on what's going on in Iran right now?
REP. MIKE PENCE: Look, I appreciate the fact that the President has said that protestors have the right to be heard and respected. I appreciate that he's expressed the fact that he's troubled by the violence and the repression that's been in evidence over the last six days. But I respectfully disagree that for the President to speak out in a way that would express the unqualified support of the American people for the citizens of Iran who are taking a stand for basic human rights, free elections,
freedom of expression would be wrong. I don't begrudge the President's ability and right to draw the line where he sees fit, that's why I've authored a resolution in Congress that I hope comes to the floor this week that would give the American people the opportunity through their elected representatives to express support not for Mr. Moussavi or for any particular opposition candidate but for the people who have crowded the street for most of the last week, risking their liberty and in some cases
risking their lives on behalf of a fundamental freedom.
FEMI OKE: So let's make this distinction: It looks like the Obama administration are sitting on the fence, and given the chance you would actually make a very distinct way of saying "We would like to support the opposition in Iran."
REP. MIKE PENCE: I want to be very clear on this. I think Mr. Moussavi and his agenda are, as we'd say in Indiana, not a real picnic. There's not a bright line choice between the two. But I think the people who are crowding the streets, who are crowding the streets because they see the election as having been stolen, they want free elections, they want democracy, they want the right to be heard and embrace essential fundamental freedoms. We ought to, the American people, if our President chooses not to do
so, I believe through our elected representatives, the American people ought to have the opportunity to express solidarity with the brave men and women who are taking a stand for essential freedoms in Iran. I think it represents an extraordinary opportunity for the people in our country to have what may be the beginning of a truly fresh start with the people of Iran.
KATHERINE LANPHER: Representative, this is Katherine Lanpher here. The American people have all sorts of ways to express how they are feeling about the protests that are going on in Iran. What about the fact that there are those who say, "Look, we actually play into the hands of the supporters of Ahmadinejad when we do something that has any kind of imprimatur of the government. A Congressional resolution, we're going to have the Swedish ambassador back in Ahmadinejad's office with charges of U.S.
meddling in the election.
REP. MIKE PENCE: Yeah, it's a fair point. I want to be real clear, I could care less what the tyrants in Tehran think about what is the opinion and the regard of freedom of the American people and our government.
KATHERINE LANPHER: You're making it sound as if there's a huge difference.
REP. MIKE PENCE: Let me be clear on this point if I can. I do believe throughout the history of this country, we have, regardless of short-term political calculations, when we have seen people around the world risking their liberty and their lives for their own fundamental freedoms, we have at least stood with them rhetorically. And if the administration chooses to take a more careful approach, I'll respectfully disagree, but that is the President's line to draw. I simply believe that the people of the
United States of America would welcome the opportunity, and their elected representatives would welcome the opportunity, to speak a word of support for those brave souls in Iran.
FEMI OKE: Congressman, we actually have an Iranian expert in the studio listening to you right now. He's Professor Hamid Dabashi, he's professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, shaking his head at some of the comments you're making. Professor?
HAMID DABASHI: Well, in the spirit of conversation, I respectfully disagree with the Congressman from Indiana. I think President Obama has stated the opinion extremely cautiously and extremely well. We have taught him very well at Columbia University. He has, in very certain terms, expressed solidarity with the demonstrators at the rallies without taking explicit sides. The reason is the history of the United States involvement, beginning with the coup of 1953 moving forward. Any more statement other than that, the way
the Congressman is suggesting, is the kiss of death to this movement. You have to stay away from the movement. I do agree with the Congressman that the American people have to find a way to express it, but not through the Congress. The hypocrisy of this position is that the night before the election in Iran, in the Congress, you actually started initiating more severe sanctions against Iran, which the following day in Iran would have meant support for Ahmadinejad. And now that the movement has started, any involvement of United
States Congressmen in support of the rally means support for Ahmadinejad.
FEMI OKE: Congressman?
REP. MIKE PENCE: Well, I absolutely support the strongest possible sanctions against Iran as they move in the direction of a headlong rush of attaining a nuclear weapon. President Ahmadinejad is a holocaust denier who has expressed the ambition to wipe Israel off the map. Now that being said, look, I want to grant the professor's point. I think for the United States to have expressed a perspective on these elections before the ballots were closed, before the voting was closed, would've been imprudent. But I
strongly disagree that the United States of America needs to stand silent when people are taking a stand for what the professor just said moments ago is a universal human right.
HAMID DABASHI: But Congressman, if I may remind you the target of those sanctions was not Ahmadinejad, but actually the people that you pretend that you are protecting.
FEMI OKE: Gentlemen, let me do one thing here. Congressman, give me one second. Congressman, I'm just going to ask you for one single statement to wrap up with because we're close to the end of our program. Just one comment.
REP. MIKE PENCE: The American cause is freedom. And in that cause we must never be silent. If the President chooses to take a more measured approach as some experts would suggest, I'd respectfully disagree...
FEMI OKE: Thank you very much, respectfully disagreeing with
each other. Mike Pence: he's the Indiana Republican Representative. We also had Professor Hamid Dabashi, he's professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University. Thank you both very much.