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Top Republican Urges Obama to Stand Up for Iranian Protesters

Supporters of defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi gesture during a protest in Tehran on June 18. (Courtesy of Reuters)

The top Republican on the House intelligence committee called on President Obama to make a more "forceful" statement in support of Iranians protesting last week's election, accusing him of "stubbornly" holding on to hopes for negotiations with the current regime. 

The White House released a written statement Saturday in which Obama used his strongest language to date to condemn what he called the "violent and unjust" government crackdown on protesters. 

But Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., told "FOX News Sunday" that Obama, in person, needs to address the Iranian and American people -- he called the election backlash a potential "game changer" in Iran which Obama should leverage. 

"This president is a great orator. This president needs to come out, he needs to speak to the American people, but more important he needs to speak to the people of Iran, the people of the Middle East and he has to make a forceful statement on behalf of the people on the streets for freedom and democracy," Hoekstra said. 

The White House and some Democrats argue that speaking out too vociferously against Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the ruling clerics will only give ammunition to the regime and allow them to cast the opposition as a U.S.-backed uprising. 

"I think the president is handling a rapidly evolving, very complex situation about as well as you can expect," said Evan Bayh, D-Ind., member of the Senate intelligence committee. "He has put us clearly on the side of the reformers, clearly on the side of fair and free elections, clearly condemned the violence. But he's done it in a smart way. 

"This regime is rapidly losing legitimacy with its own people...We should not let them change the narrative to one of being meddling Americans," Bayh told "FOX News Sunday." 

Hoekstra said he doesn't "buy" that argument and accused Obama of "stubbornly" holding onto the belief that negotiations with the current regime are the best way forward. Hoekstra said the central question with Iran is not whether the country will develop nuclear weapons -- but what kind of regime will be in control of them. He said the ongoing demonstrations mark an "opportunity" for U.S. aims. 

"The regime is going to accuse us of meddling whether we do or whether we do not say anything, but if we're going to do something we should speak out," Hoekstra said. 

Protests have momentarily calmed down in Iran, as reports put the official death toll at 19 at least. They could start up again later Sunday, according to reports. 

State media also reported that authorities arrested the daughter and other relatives of ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani -- an Ahmadinejad foe.