President Barack Obama on Iran: "The World is Watching"

June 19, 2009

Speaking to Harry Smith of CBS News, the President explains his thinking on Iran:

Q Let's move on to the news of the day. The Ayatollah Khamenei gave his speech today, gave his sermon. He said that the election in Iran was, in fact, legitimate. He said, "The street demonstrations are unacceptable." Do you have a message for those people in the street?

THE PRESIDENT: I absolutely do. First of all, let's understand that this notion that somehow these hundreds of thousands of people who are pouring into the streets in Iran are somehow responding to the West or the United States, that's an old distraction that I think has been trotted out periodically. And that's just not going to fly.

What you're seeing in Iran are hundreds of thousands of people who believe their voices were not heard and who are peacefully protesting and seeking justice. And the world is watching. And we stand behind those who are seeking justice in a peaceful way. Already we've seen violence out there. I've said this throughout the week, I want to repeat it, that we stand with those who would look to peaceful resolution of conflict and we believe that the voices of people have to be heard, that that's a universal value that the American people stand for and this administration stands for. And I'm very concerned, based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made, that the government of Iran recognize that the world is watching. And how they approach and deal with people who are -- through peaceful means -- trying to be heard will I think send a pretty clear signal to the international community about what Iran is and is not.

But the last point I want to make on this -- this is not an issue of the United States or the West versus Iran; this is an issue of the Iranian people. The fact that they are on the streets, under pretty severe duress, at great risk to themselves, is a sign that there's something in that society that wants to open up. And, you know, we respect Iran's sovereignty and we respect the fact that ultimately the Iranian people have to make these decisions.

But I hope that the world understands that this is not something that has to do with the outside world; this has to do with what's happening in Iran. And I think ultimately the Iranian people will obtain justice.

Q People in this country say you haven't said enough, that you haven't been forceful enough in your support for those people on the street -- to which you say?

THE PRESIDENT: To which I say, the last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States. That's what they do. That's what we're already seeing. We shouldn't be playing into that. There should be no distractions from the fact that the Iranian people are seeking to let their voices be heard.

What we can do is bear witness and say to the world that the incredible demonstrations that we've seen is a testimony to I think what Dr. King called the "arc of the moral universal." It's long but it bends towards justice.