As protests in Iran raged for the fourth day, U.S. President Barack Obama tried to avoid "meddling: in the disputed election as he vowed Tuesday to press home his "tough diplomacy" towards Iran whatever the result of its electoral tumult.
"It is not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations to be seen as meddling -- the U.S. president, meddling in Iranian elections," Obama said, warning that getting too involved would back fire.
Obama downplayed differences between the re-elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his defeated reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi to justify his reticence to become too involved in the escalating post-electoral demonstrations and tension in Iran.
"It's important to understand that although there is amazing ferment taking place in Iran, the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as has been advertised," Obama said.
"Either way we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and has been pursuing nuclear weapons," Obama told CNBC television.
"Either way, it's important for the United States to engage in the tough diplomacy around those permanent security concerns that we have -- nuclear weapons, funding of terrorism," Obama said.
He also pointedly said he believed that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei understood there were deep concerns in Iran about the disputed poll, as the biggest opposition protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution escalated.
"You have seen in Iran some initial reaction from the supreme leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people had deep concerns about the election," Obama said, adding that he hoped the Islamic Republic's leaders would repect the right to peaceful expression and not respond with violence.
He said he hoped Iran's leaders responded to outrage over the election that pro-reform activists say was stolen by Ahmadinejad, not with violence but by respecting the right to peaceful expression.
"When I see violence directed at peaceful protestors, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed -- wherever that takes place -- it is a concern to me and it is a concern to the American people."
The U.S. president's response to the Iranian turmoil has been noticeably more muted than that of some European allies, like French President Nicolas Sarkozy who described Tuesday the elections as a "fraud."
But the president appears to be balancing a desire to support free speech with the need to preserve U.S. negotiating options with a government he had pledged to engage over its nuclear program.
His remarks came as the State Department took the unusual step of asking the Twitter micro-blogging site to delay a planned maintenance outage because of its use as a communications tool by Iranians following their disputed election -- a request that seemed to run counter to Obama's public efforts not to appear to be meddling in Iran's internal affairs.
Twitter delayed Monday's scheduled one-hour outage, which would have taken place during daylight hours in Iran, acknowledging the role its messagin service was playing in the country.
The site has been used extensively by protestors to get out information and organize, especially since the Iranian government shut down other websites, mobile phones and newspapers and prevented foreign media from covering protests.
State Department Ian Kelly confirmed Tuesday that the state department had consulted with Twitter and was "monitoring the situation through a number of different media, including social media networks like Facebook and Twitter."
But Twitter said on its official blog that "the State Department does not have access to our decision making process."
Policymaking on Iran
Meanwhile, veteran diplomat Dennis Ross will soon leave his job at the State Department for a more active role in shaping Iran policy at the White House, a U.S. official said Tuesday.
"He's going over to the White House," the official told AFP on the condition of anonymity, adding Ross wanted to move from the sidelines to the center of Obama administration policymaking on Iran.
Unlike Middle East envoy George Mitchell and Afghanistan-Pakistan envoy Richard Holbrooke, Ross slipped under the radar when his post was announced in a late-night statement.
He was also given a vague job title, that of special advisor to the Gulf and southwest Asia, whose duties included advancing the Obama administration's policy to engage diplomatically with Iran.
Experts had seen the assignment of Ross to his State Department post as a way for President Barack Obama to reassure Israel of his support even as Washington announced its intention to open a dialogue with Tehran. He is seen as a strong supporter of Israel.