President Obama on Saturday called on the Iranian government to "stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people" amid calls for the White House to go further in showing support for the Iranian people after the country's disputed elections.
Republicans, in particular, have pressed Obama to speak out more forcefully, as protesters and authorities clashed Saturday in Tehran during a government crackdown.
"The universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected and the United States stands with all who seek to exercise those rights," Obama said in a written statement.
Obama also referred back to his speech this month to the Muslim world, saying "suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. The Iranian people will ultimately judge the actions of their own government. If the Iranian government seeks the respect of the international community, it must respect the dignity of its own people and govern through consent, not coercion."
And Obama cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s, famous quote: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
"I believe that," Obama said. "The international community believes that. And right now, we are bearing witness to the Iranian peoples' belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."
Republicans, who have pushed Obama to speak out more forcefully against Tehran's crackdown on protesters, said the president's statement was long overdue, coming a day after Congress passed a resolution condemning the crackdown on protesters.
"The Obama administration took a first step today," California Rep. Darrell Issa told FOX News. "Obviously, Congress was well ahead of the president. I think the president is playing catch-up."
Issa said the president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other Obama officials should make a series of additional statements to demonstrate when the United States stands.
"You have to support these people whose aspirations are only freedom," he said.
Before Obama's statement, Republicans had called on him to send a clear message that he supported the Iranian people despite the risk of appearing to meddle in Iranian affairs.
"I think what the president can do is make a strong statement on behalf of the people of Iran ... making clear it's not about a certain candidate," Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told FOX News on Saturday. Remaining silent "sends the wrong message" to Iranians and other people in other oppressed countries.
It is not clear how many people have been killed or injured so far, but eyewitness accounts trickling out of the country depict a scene of a sometimes brutal confrontation, stemming from opposition supporters' belief that last week's election was rigged to re-elect hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Social networking sites have been the primary source of information since Iranian leaders have kicked foreign journalists out of the country.
Both chambers of Congress voted Friday to condemn Iran's crackdown on anti-government protesters. The resolution denounces the "ongoing violence" by the government and the Iranian government's suppression of the Internet and cell phones. It also expressed support for Iranian citizens who embrace freedom.
The resolution was initiated by Republicans partly to prod Obama, who has been reluctant to speak too strongly about the disputed elections that left Ahmadinejad in charge of the Muslim nation.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the resolution is consistent with Obama's message condemning the violence in Iran. At the same time, he said the U.S. would not become a political football in a debate happening in Iran.
Obama told CBS News Friday that Iran would show its true colors by the way it dealt with the protests.
"I'm very concerned based on some of the tenor and tone of the statements that have been made that the government of Iran recognizes that the world is watching," he said. "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."
Robert Tappan, a former State Department official, told FOX News that the U.S. should pursue a two-pronged strategy in dealing with Iran.
First, Tappan suggested the U.S. reach out to regional allies, like Turkey and Pakistan, "those who are engaged still with the Iranian government and behind the scenes really try to work to put the pressure on."
"Then the U.S. from an official government standpoint, really needs to hammer on the basic rights: freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, those different things."
Tappan added that Obama has to be exceedingly careful in how he engages Iran.
"We're walking a fine line here, and we can't look to be favoring one over the other till things settle down a bit," he said.