Did President Obama change his mind about intervening in Iran's election? With the words that he used: no, With the tone,setting, context, maybe. But he had no choice.
1. His statement referred to the Islamic Republican of Iran, which remains this administration's way of signaling that they acknowledge the legitimacy of the current government.
2. He reiterated the U.S. opposition to regime change and its support for Iranian sovereignty.
3. As he's done since the beginning of the crisis, he said that Iran -- and Iran only -- would decide Iran's future.
4. If the Iranian government were to respond to the administraiton's offer for direct talks today, the administration would engage in direct talks with the government.
The administration believes that there is a line, perhaps a red line, between supporting the aspirations of the demonstrators, expressing sympathy for their plight, expressing (key word) universally recognized outrage at the bloodshed, reiterating his belief that, even as American democracy isn't directly exportable everywhere, Islamic governments must recognize certain core human values that the current government isn't recognizing.
Think of Obama's several audiences. The American political press corps confines itself to debating a binary question: is Obama saying enough? Conservatives want him to take sides. We really don't know, aside from anecdotes, what the protesters want to hear. The White House thinks they want to hear everything that Obama said: a respect for sovereignty, a respect for Iranian aspirations, a respect for decency, civility and a shared anger at personal and political injustice. (There is the very real question as to whether, given the media blackout, the Iranian people can hear anything.)
What Obama wants Iran's current government to hear: that's harder to say. At the top of the press conference, Obama restated the top national security priority vis-a-vis Iran, which was to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. But I think he recognizes, to some degree, that because the Supreme Leader decided to accuse the West (Britain, Europe, the US) of meddling in the election and because Iran's state press agencies are spreading accusations of direct US involvement, that were he to ignore the charges, he would be leaving them unanswered. It is not clear how or whether Iranians heard the speech. The Guardian Council doubtless did, and the administration wants them to understand that Barack Obama possesses a powerful bully pulpit that is respected in the Muslim world, and he is not afraid to use it -- and to speak for the world.
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is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.