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Obama and McCain square off on Iran

June 16, 2009 |  9:31 am

Iran  It is no secret that the situation in Iran represents a knotty problem for policymakers within the Obama administration. But pity the poor Republicans facing the same questions -- but lacking the unity that comes from being in power.

The demonstrations in Iran have caught the Obama administration between wanting to uphold traditional Western, democratic values (such as freedom of speech and elections free from scandal) and the realpolitik of having to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear plans.

President Obama has tried to maintain some distance, saying he and the world are deeply concerned by events, but it is up to Iranians to choose their own leader. Obama  says the United States remains prepared for tough bargaining with Iran over the nuclear issues no matter who is president.

This approach has pitted two senior Republicans on opposite sides in the Iran debate. Arizona Sen. John McCain said today that Obama's approach on the Iran elections is not tough enough.

McCain, interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show, said the United States should support the Iranian people “in their struggle against an oppressive, repressive regime.” He said Iran “should not be subjected to four more years of [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and the radical Muslim clerics.”

Obama “should speak out that this is a corrupt, flawed sham of an election and that the Iranian people have been deprived of their rights,” McCain argued.

McCain represents one wing of the GOP on foreign affairs, a conservative group that has been a faithful supporter of popular attempts to unseat rulers in countries with which the United States has problems. In the recent presidential campaign, McCain was very quick off the mark to condemn Russia’s military actions in Georgia, not pulling any punches.

"Russia should immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations and withdraw all forces from sovereign Georgian territory," McCain said.

Obama was more temperate; he also condemned the Russian invasion but was more deliberate, critics said slower off the mark (maybe because he was on vacation at the time).

"I think it is important at this point for all sides to show restraint and to stop this armed conflict," Obama said.

That less forceful approach also has supporters among the GOP. (Perhaps because of the memory of the Hungarian uprising, publicly backed by the U.S. but crushed by Russian tanks.)

Sen. Richard Lugar, of Indiana, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought it would be unwise for the United States to get any more involved with Iran.

Interviewed on CBS’ “The Early Show,” Lugar said a greater role by Washington could worsen the U.S. image in Iran. The clerics “are in charge. They are the government. The election is interesting but not decisive.”

The split among Republicans is just one interesting facet of the current Iran situation. Another type of war is being waged across the Web and Twitter as everyone struggles to get their message out.

Twitter, of couse, is increasingly becoming a tool in the newsperson’s arsenal as well. Check out my tweets on national, foreign and economic issues. (http://twitter.LATmuskal.com) 

Here is a transcript of ABC’s Jake Tapper interviewing McCain via Twitter:

TAPPER: @SenJohnMcCain what would u say were u president? how much of a concern wd it be that "the west" supporting protestors cd be demonized? Thx

MCCAIN: @jaketapper we heard that during the Cold War when the left didn’t want us criticizing the Soviet Union b/c we could have been "demonized"

TAPPER: @SenJohnMcCain i had a feeling the memory of jailed russian dissidents hearing Reagan speak about them wd be something u were thinking about

MCCAIN: @jaketapper USA always stands for freedom and democracy!!

TAPPER: @SenJohnMcCain WH says it needs to focus on Iran’s nuke program/support for terror, must deal w Iran we have not 1 we wish we had. response?

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain to translate from twitterese: WH says "We have to deal with the Iran we HAVE, not the one we WISH we had"

MCCAIN: @jaketapper that’s revisiting the cold war arguments on how we dealt with the Soviet Union

MCCAIN: @jaketapper - we must stand strong for democracy in Iran as we stood for Democracy in Poland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia 

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain So if President Obama called u and asked your advice what would u tell him?

MCCAIN: @jaketapper speak up for these young Iranians who deserve a free and fair election.

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain Possible that would hurt w/efforts to bring Iran to negotiating table re: eliminating nuke weapon program? 

MCCAIN: @jaketapper again, same old argument by the left during the Cold War - we’ve seen this movie before.

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain so bottom line, u think a stronger rhetorical show of support from PresObama -- would that include a call for new election? 

MCCAIN: @jaketapper Absolutely!! Funny, how history repeats itself...

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain Any prediction for what happens in Iran? Mousavi asked his followers to stand down from today demonstration, fearing violence.

MCCAIN: @jaketapper no prediction, but if we are steadfast eventually the Iranian people will prevail. But this regime has tight control.

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain How do you think Ahmadinejad/Khamanei see the response from the WH so far? 

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain FYI @Change_for_Iran bills self as Iranian student + sends this pic http://bit.ly/z5nNH "Ashora platoon" 5 killed by this man 

MCCAIN: @jaketapper Iranian resistance tweets to help spread the message against violence and the corrupt election

TAPPER: @senjohnmccain What say u on North Korea? PrezObama meets w South Korean President today 

MCCAIN: @jaketapper this is a half measure - those ships should be stopped and searched ... if there is probable cause

-- Michael Muskal

Complete coverage of Iran's presidential election and the aftermath.

Photo:  Hundreds of thousands of supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims there was voting fraud in Friday's election, turn out to protest the result of the election at a mass rally in Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran, Iran, on Monday / Ben Curtis.

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