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Obama Ups Iran Rhetoric

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Form NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today, President Obama condemned the violence against protestors in Iran. Mr. Obama's comments came during a midday news conference. The other big topic was the administration's push to rework health care. In a moment we'll dig deeper into the president's proposal for a government-run health care option.

First, NPR's Don Gonyea reports on what President Obama had to say at the White House.

DON GONYEA: The president began the news conference with an opening statement about Iran.

President BARACK OBAMA: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, and the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

GONYEA: But the president is still being careful. He focuses on the violence and does not call the election a fraud, though he does say there are serious questions. He also says it remains his goal to engage Iran in negotiations aimed at ending it's nuclear program. But he said Iran has choices to make about how it is viewed by the rest of the world.

Pres. OBAMA: There is a path available to Iran, in which their sovereignty is respected, their traditions, their culture, their faith is respected. But one in which they are part of a larger community that has responsibilities and operates according to norms and international rules that are universal. We don't know how they're going to respond yet. And that's what we are waiting to see.

GONYEA: The president denied that he is toughening his rhetoric toward Iran. He said his statements have been consistent. The president said the U.S. can't do anything that would be portrayed by the Iranian government as meddling. Republicans in Congress have criticized him for not being forceful enough. They include Senator John McCain. Mr. Obama reacted.

Pres. OBAMA: Yeah, I think that all of us share a belief that we want justice to prevail. But only I'm the president of the United States.

GONYEA: Finally on Iran, the president was asked if he had himself watched the video, distributed via the Internet, of the death of the young Iranian woman who was fatally shot during one demonstration.

Unidentified Woman: Have you seen this video?

Pres. OBAMA: I have.

Unidentified Woman: What is your reaction?

Pres. OBAMA: It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking and I think that anybody who sees it knows that there's something fundamentally unjust about that.

GONYEA: He said it's important that the Iranian people know that we are watching what's happening and that they are not alone in this process. On the news conference's other main topic, the president defended the high price tag of overhauling the health care system. He said costs will be offset through savings and new efficiencies. Still the trillion dollar plus cost has become a big part of the campaign against the White House push for health care changes. Mr. Obama said that argument ignores the cost of doing nothing.

Pres. OBAMA: Premiums have been doubling every nine years and going up three times faster than wages. The U.S. government is not going to be able to afford Medicare and Medicaid on its current trajectory. Businesses are having to make very tough decisions about whether we drop coverage or we further restrict coverage.

GONYEA: And the president was asked about concerns voiced to Congress by big health insurers, that forcing them to compete with the government-provided plan would lead to their demise.

Pres. OBAMA: Why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care, if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of the business? That's not logical.

GONYEA: The news conference lasted nearly an hour with the president answering critics and making his case on a pair of difficult issues, both of which will be occupying a lot of his time in the months ahead.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, The White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.