Obama steps up criticism of Iran's post-election crackdown.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 24 2009 6:42 AM

Obama Changes Tune on Iran

The New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with, while the rest of the papers off-lead, President Obama delivering his harshest criticism of Iran's postelection crackdown of protesters. After days of criticism from Republican leaders who said the president wasn't showing enough support for the Iranian demonstrators, Obama said he was "appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the past few days." Despite the tough words, Obama only took it so far. While stating that there are "significant questions about the legitimacy of the election," he emphasized the United States has no way of judging who really won. He also didn't mention any possible sanctions against the regime if it continued down its current path and, more importantly, refused to state that his administration was giving up on its goal to have talks with Iranian officials.

The Washington Postleads with news that the Metro subway train that crashed into another on Monday had its emergency brakes activated. Investigators also said the train was in automatic mode, which means that the train's computers should have stopped the train long before it got close to the stationary train. The paper also reports that the first two cars of the striking train were two months overdue for scheduled maintenance on their brakes. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how a significant portion of the tactics that California's lawmakers and governor are proposing to deal with the state's fiscal crisis involve gimmicks that will only ensure the problem gets kicked down the road. What kind of gimmicks? Well, one proposal would have state employees receiving their June 2010 paychecks at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 so California would only have to meet 11 months of payroll in the new fiscal year.

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The WSJ declares that Obama's comments about Iran yesterday "could mark the beginning of a significant shift in the White House's broader Middle East strategy." But administration officials were careful to emphasize that they're not quite there yet. While it seems pretty clear that there won't be any talks with Iranian officials about the nuclear program any time soon, that doesn't mean they couldn't take place later this year. Iran analysts warned that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might try to use Obama to gain legitimacy on the world stage by announcing he is ready to carry out nuclear negotiations with the United States.

The WP states that administration officials simply don't know how the postelection turmoil will affect the administration's efforts to negotiate with Iran. "We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed," Obama said. He also vehemently denied accusations that the United States was instigating the protests. "These accusations are patently false," he said. But he praised the demonstrators and even said he had watched the "heartbreaking" video that showed the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, noting that "anybody who sees it knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about that."

In Tehran, things were "eerily quiet" ( NYT) yesterday as the government continued its efforts to crack down on demonstrators. After the Guardian Council rejected claims of fraud, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he would give the supervisory body another five days to actually certify the election. And while there are calls for more protests on the Internet, the opposition seems to be without any obvious leaders. The WP reports that "truckloads" of police descended on Tehran's main squares.

The NYT notes that the last time Mir Hossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate, appeared in public was Thursday, and his last statement was issued Sunday. Mousavi's newspaper was raided yesterday and its staff was arrested. Adding to the media crackdown, a freelance reporter working for the Washington Times was arrested. Meanwhile, the WP notes that state media continued their campaign to blame the tumult on outside forces by broadcasting interviewers with "rioters" who confessed that they were influenced by Western news media. Even as demonstrators stayed off the streets, they still let their presence be felt by continuing to shout "God is great" and "Death to the dictator" at 10 p.m. "The protest has grown louder night after night," reports the NYT.

The papers go inside with news that a suspected CIA-operated drone aircraft carried out an air strike in South Waziristan that may have killed 60 people. The attack came during a funeral for a Taliban commander, and it may be the deadliest attack since the United States began using drones to attack Pakistan-based militants. The WP gets confirmation from a U.S. official who said that the missile strike killed "a large number" of suspected militants but didn't mention any exact numbers.

The NYT takes a front-page look at how a startup company, AltaRock Energy, is set to start drilling deep into the ground near San Francisco to tap geothermal energy using a nearly identical method that was used several years ago in Switzerland and abandoned after it set off an earthquake. The project in Basel not only set off one earthquake that damaged buildings but also led to "thousands of smaller earthquakes … that continued for months." AltaRock insists it can operate safely, and its project in California will be the first of what could eventually be dozens of similar efforts in the United States to try to tap into what many think could be a great source for clean energy. But seismologists say there's no way of really knowing "what will or will not set off a major temblor."

The NYT fronts, and the rest of the papers go inside with, the new Richard Nixon White House tapes and documents that were made public for the first time yesterday. Among the highlights, the tapes capture Nixon's reaction to the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. In a conversation, Nixon said he worried abortions encouraged "permissiveness" but said they might be needed in some cases. "There are times when abortions are necessary. I know that," he said. "Suppose you have a black and a white, or a rape." Notes also reveal that Ronald Reagan, who was governor of California at the time, seemed to approve of what would be later known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," when Nixon fired the special prosecutor looking into Watergate, an action that prompted the resignations of the attorney general and his deputy.

The WP's Dana Milbank writes about how reporters attending yesterday's White House news conference "looked at one another in amazement at the stagecraft they were witnessing" when Obama called on Nico Pitney from the Huffington Post. The White House had invited him and "told him the president was likely to call on him, with the understanding that he would ask a question about Iran that had been submitted online by an Iranian." Throughout Bush's presidency, "liberal outlets such as the Huffington Post often accused the White House of planting questioners in news conferences to ask preplanned questions," writes Milbank. "But here was Obama fielding a preplanned question asked by a planted questioner—from the Huffington Post."

The Post's Al Kamen reports that an "anonymous British philanthropist" paid $165,000 to buy a CD of Mikhail Gorbachev's singing. The former leader of the Soviet Union recorded Songs for Raisa in memory of his late wife, and it was auctioned off to benefit the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation.

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