Published June 23, 2009
"He'll continue to speak out in support of those that are seeking to demonstrate and do so in a way peacefully," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told FOX News. "We don't want to inject our government in the place of the reformers in this equation."
The president has faced mounting pressure from the GOP in recent days to toughen his measured response to the violent protests in the country over Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's election victory -- a victory many Iranians, including the president's rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi, claim is fraudulent. Many Republicans have charged Obama with taking a passive tone and being too timid in his response to the violence.
Obama, who is expected to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon, does not want the U.S. to become a "political football" or "foil" to the demonstrators who are protesting Iran's disputed election outcome, said Gibbs.
But the White House left open the possibility Tuesday that it would intervene should the violence in Tehran escalate.
"Obviously if a tremendous escalation happens -- if tanks happen -- we would respond to that immediately," Gibbs said.
Iran's supreme leader has ordered demonstrators off the streets and the feared Revolutionary Guards continue to threaten an increased crackdown. At least 17 people have been killed during near-daily demonstrations, which have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.
Members of the Revolutionary Guard, the Basij militia and other Iranian security forces in riot gear have been deployed across Tehran, preventing gatherings and ordering people to keep moving. A protest of some 200 people Monday was quickly broken up with tear gas and shots in the air.
Gibbs said Obama will also address several other pressing issues during Tuesday's news conference, including the possibility that North Korea may fire a long-range ballistic missile toward Hawaii in early July.
"The president and the Pentagon have done and are doing everything humanly possible to ensure the safety of all Americans should the North Koreans decide to test fire another missile," he said. "That is our main concern."
Gibbs added that the U.S. is taking aggressive steps -- including strong sanctions -- to prevent North Korea from transporting nuclear material and weapons to another regime.
An American destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, continues to keep a close eye on North Korean vessel Kang Nam, which is suspected of carrying illicit weapons through waters off Shanghai en route to Myanmar. It is the first ship being monitored under the U.N. sanctions imposed earlier this month following North Korea's defiant underground nuclear test in May.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.