U.S. President Barack Obama condemned the "outrageous" violence perpetrated against Iranian opposition demonstrators, saying Friday the protesters' "bravery in the face of brutality" is a testament to their "enduring pursuit of justice."


U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel answer questions Friday at a joint news conference in Washington. ((Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press))

Speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, Obama said he and Merkel speak with "one voice" in support of Iranians' "universal rights" to free expression and assembly.

"The violence perpetrated against them is outrageous. Despite the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we condemn it," Obama told reporters.

"As I’ve had said before, the Iranian people will be the ultimate judge of their government’s actions, but if the Iranian government desires the respect of the international community, it must respect the rights and heed the will of its people."

The comments mark a stronger tone against Tehran by the U.S. president, who has faced criticism at home for not speaking out more forcefully in support of the protesters in recent days.

The Iranian election's outcome has spurred allegations of vote rigging and sent tens of thousands of protesters from both sides into the streets. At least 17 people have been killed as protesters clashed with police and pro-government militia during the rallies.

Obama said his administration's hopes for a new dialogue between the U.S. and Iran have been affected in the post-election crackdown.

He added opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has captured the "spirit and imagination" of Iranian people.

Mousavi and his supporters allege electoral fraud occurred during the June 12 vote in Iran that handed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad victory by a two-to-one margin.

But Mousavi said Friday he would abide by an order to seek government approval for future demonstrations.

Obama also said Iran has "other responsibilities" over its nuclear program and urged Tehran to "take a path that respects international norms and leads to greater security and prosperity for the Iranian people."

G8 calls for Iran to respect human rights


Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini and Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone speak to reporters on Friday following a G8 meeting in Trieste, Italy. ((Paolo Giovannini/Associated Press))

Meanwhile, in Italy, the Group of Eight major industrialized countries issued a statement deploring violence in Iran and calling on the regime to resolve the crisis over its disputed presidential elections peacefully.

The statement, which came on the second day of a three-day meeting between the foreign ministers of G8 nations in Trieste, Italy, also urged Tehran "to respect fundamental human rights including freedom of expression."

A statement by the ministers from the industrialized countries also said the door must remain open to dialogue on Iran's nuclear program but expressed "deep concern" over the proliferation risk.

Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon is attending the G8 meeting that has pitted European nations pushing for a tougher stance on Iran against Russia, which backs the results of the election.

Calls for Israel to freeze settlements

The G8 also called for a freeze on all Jewish settlement in the West Bank, echoing a demand by  Obama last month that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to accept.

It was soon followed by a similar statement from the Mideast Quartet — the group of negotiators from the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union — which met Friday on the sidelines of the G8 summit.

Netanyahu has insisted that construction in existing settlements in the West Bank must be allowed for "natural growth" of settler families.

The G8 statement urged all parties to "re-enter direct negotiations on all standing issues consistent" with the U.S.-designed "roadmap" toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

In a speech earlier this month, Netanyahu called for a demilitarized Palestinian state that must recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

With files from The Associated Press