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Cautious Response to Events in Iran Reflects Obama's Long-Term Approach

Daniel W. Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, said that "off-key note" was "probably right about a week ago, but the situation has changed when you had tens of thousands of people in streets" in support of Mousavi.

Drezner said that otherwise, "Obama has played it about right." He said yesterday's statement was "rather artful" in citing the government's obligations to its people.

"He's playing to multiple audiences. He's talking not only to the Iranians but also the Russians and the Chinese," two key partners in the effort to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions, Drezner said. "The more ambitious and, for lack of a better word, Bush-like his language is, the more it will upset the Russians and Chinese."

Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, agreed that Obama has struck the right balance. "Our Iranian-dissident contacts want a certain degree of moral support, but from a significant distance," he said. They believe anything more forceful "will be used to discredit them."

"Some people are saying 'bearing witness' is a passive stance, but I'm not sure what an active stance would be," Malinowski said. "What else could he do? The more the demands of the opposition become associated with the United States, the harder it will be for a spontaneous opposition movement in Iran to make progress."

Mohsen Milani, chairman of the Government and International Affairs Department at the University of South Florida, said yesterday's statement represented a careful evolution that allows Obama to keep open as many options as possible.

"Based on my knowledge of Iranian history, the United States should not interfere publicly," he said. "President Obama is on the right track. He has written a very powerful narrative without cornering himself."

Staff writer Scott Wilson contributed to this report.

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