WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Government leaders in the tumultuous Middle East must recognize they can't bully their citizens who "hunger for freedom," U.S. President Obama said Tuesday.
"The world is changing … with a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunities," Obama said during his first news conference of 2011. "If you're governing these countries, you've got to get ahead of change; you can't get behind the curve. You can't maintain power through coercion … there has to be consent."
Obama said he believed the United States responded appropriately to the ever-changing political landscape in the Middle East, where anti-government demonstrations that began in January in Tunisia spread throughout the region.
"My hope is they're (government leaders) becoming more responsive to this hunger for change," Obama said.
He dismissed Iran's reaction to the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, saying, "I find it ironic that you've got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt, when in fact they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully."
He said he and others in the United States "hope to continue to see the people of Iran have the courage to be able to express their yearning for greater freedoms and greater representation in government."
As with protests elsewhere in the region, the United States "can't dictate what happens in Iran," Obama said. "What we can do is lend moral support to those seeking better lives for themselves."