WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday strongly condemned "violent and unjust suppression" of civilians in Iran, following a fierce government crackdown on opposition protests.
The blunt statement contrasted with careful initial responses by the White House following post-election protests in Iran in June and came as the nuclear showdown between Tehran and world powers reached a critical point.
"We strongly condemn the violent and unjust suppression of civilians in Iran seeking to exercise their universal rights," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement.
"Hope and history are on the side of those who peacefully seek their universal rights, and so is the United States.
"Governing through fear and violence is never just, and as President Obama said in Oslo -- it is telling when governments fear the aspirations of their own people more than the power of any other nation."
The White House commented after Iranian security forces killed several protestors, including opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi's nephew, in a crackdown on anti-government rallies in Tehran, websites said.
Witnesses said dozens of protesters were hurt and several arrested during what turned into the bloodiest showdown between protesters and security forces since the height of unrest in June following the disputed presidential election.
As violence mounted following that presidential poll, the White House reacted carefully, trying to avoid inserting the United States into the middle of an escalating political crisis with its arch foe.
On June 15, Obama, who came to office vowing to engage the Islamic Republic, said he was "deeply troubled" by violence in Iran, but warned he did not want the United States to become a "political football" in the post-election crisis.
In subsequent days, Obama hardened the US line as violence escalated and critics accused him of giving insufficient backing to anti-government demonstrators.
Obama has given Iran until the end of this year to respond to an international offer to defuse the nuclear showdown or face tough new sanctions.