WASHINGTON, June 15 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Monday he is "deeply troubled" by violence in Iran amid charges the country's presidential election vote count was rigged.
Speaking at the White House late Monday, Obama weighed in publicly for the first time on massive demonstrations and associated violence taking place in Iran in reaction to the government's announcement that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected Friday.
"Obviously all of us have been watching the news from Iran," Obama said. "And I want to start off by being very clear that it is up to Iranians to make decisions about who Iran's leaders will be; that we respect Iranian sovereignty and want to avoid the United States being the issue inside of Iran, which sometimes the United States can be a handy political football -- or discussions with the United States.
"Having said all that, I am deeply troubled by the violence that I've been seeing on television."
Noting that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered a review of what Obama called "regularities that have taken place," the president said, "We weren't on the ground, we did not have observers there, we did not have international observers on hand, so I can't state definitively one way or another what happened with respect to the election."
He said there "appears to be a sense" among some Iranians "who now feel betrayed" but he said the government in Tehran should handle the matter "in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views."
The aftermath of Iran's presidential election has complicated Obama's diplomatic overtures to Tehran, observers said. Obama has indicated a willingness to re-establish a diplomatic relationship with Iran.
As the Iranian government cracked down on public demonstrations and reportedly detained dozens of opposition leaders, Vice President Biden said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" he had "doubts" about the election returns, and would withhold comment until a more rigorous review takes place.
One senior White House official told The Washington Post the Iranian election was "always going to be hard. ... The fact is that there is clearly a debate going on among Iranians about Iran. It is not about us."