State Department Official: U.S. ‘Considering’ More Sanctions on Iran if Protests Escalate

Iranian students run for cover from tear gas at the University of Tehran during a demonstration driven by anger over economic problems, in the capital Tehran on December 30, 2017. Students protested in a third day of demonstrations, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators. / AFP …
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In an interview with Voice of America published Monday, the State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran Andrew Peek revealed that the Trump administration is considering more sanctions on Iran should the regime escalate violence against the current wave of peaceful protests.

Peek added that the Trump administration’s response to the protests, which began last week and have continued through Tuesday, is “a very different approach from 2009,” when the Obama administration remained neutral before the “Green Revolution,” a wave of protests by young people opposed to the Islamic regime.

“We want to make it clear now through visible and vocal support of the Iranian people, that we will not let them suffer anonymously, that when they want to exercise their basic human rights we will support them,” Peek said. “The biggest victim of the Iranian government are the Iranian people.”

Peek added that the State Department and the White House was actively working to create an international coalition in support of peaceful anti-authoritarian protests in Iran. The entire administration, he noted, was “aggressively” working to “amplify messages of support from our partners, including the Canadians, the British, the Germans and others, the French, the Italians.”

While President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have published vocal statements of support for the protests, European and United Nations leaders have largely remained silent on the matter. Former Obama officials have criticized President Trump for supporting peaceful protesters against the world’s premier state sponsor of terrorism, demanding instead that he treat the situation as an internal matter.

In contrast, in the interview with Voice of America, Peek suggests that the United States will not stop at statements of support, but is considering action against Iran in the event of significant state violence.

“I want to say this from our part, we will hold accountable those people or entities who are committing violence, from the top to the bottom, against the protesters,” Peek vowed. “We’re considering a variety of options to hold those people accountable, including sanctions.”

“This time there is vocal and immediate support for the people Iranians who are protesting, that wasn’t in 2009,” Peek noted.

President Trump led the charge of his administration in condemning Iran, tweeting last week that “the world is watching” the protests against Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his regime. Most recently, on Tuesday morning, Trump took to Twitter again to condemn the Obama administration for releasing billions of dollars into the hands of Iran’s Islamist regime, much of which has gone into exporting terrorism throughout the region but could now be redirected towards repressing its own citizens.

As a result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), or 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the United States released billions of dollars in funds to Iran. Since then, Iran has expanded its influence through terror proxies in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, and Iraq, while investing little within its borders.

As a result, protests catching fire last week showcased slogans deriding Iranian interference abroad at the expense of the Iranian citizen. Reports collecting the chants used by protesters throughout the nation found dissidents saying, “Leave Syria, think about us,” “death to Hezbollah,” and “Forget about Gaza and Lebanon; I’ll sacrifice my life for Iran.”

In addition to Trump’s statements, the State Department issued remarks through spokeswoman Heather Nauert last week calling for Tehran not to use state violence to repress the protests.

“Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed, and chaos,” Nauert said. “The United States strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters. We urge all nations to publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”

American Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also issued a statement sending prayers to “the millions of people who are suffering terribly from oppressive governments in North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and especially in Iran,” sighting the protests growing in the latter country. All four nations mentioned are strategic allies and all save North Korea have experienced massive protests against repression in the past three years.

In remarks Tuesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei implied that the protests were not an organic uprising against the regime, but the product of mischief conducted by unnamed “enemies of Iran” who seek to destabilize the nation.

“Regarding these events, I have more to say, which I will share with dear Iranian people at the right time,” he added.

The Iranian government has also staged forced pro-government “rallies” in response to the protests, distributing images of the rallies through its state media outlets to promote the claim that most Iranians support the dictatorship.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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