‘The World Is Watching’: Trump, State Department Respond to Iran Protests

A rally in support of the Iranian government in Tehran on Saturday. The demonstration followed days of unauthorized protests about the economy. Credit Hamed Malekpour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Hamed Malekpour/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Both President Donald Trump and the U.S. State Department responded on Friday to widespread protests against the Islamic dictatorship in Iran, urging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei to avoid human rights abuses against peaceful dissidents.

On Twitter, President Trump warned the regime that “the world is watching,” accusing Tehran of funding “terrorism abroad” with money that should have gone into improving the lives of the Iranian people. Through its terror proxy, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran has exacerbated conflicts in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and expanded its reach throughout Latin America:

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert issued a statement about the protests Friday, as well, condemning the brutal Iranian regime for impoverishing its people. “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,” she said. “As President Trump has said, the longest-suffering victims of Iran’s leaders are Iran’s own people.”

“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,” Nauert added, noting that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “today repeats his deep support for the Iranian people.”

Iranian officials responded to the American statements with their signature vitriol, dismissing Washington’s acknowledgment of the protests as “cheap, worthless and invalid.”

“The great Iranian nation regards the opportunist and duplicitous support of the American officials for certain gatherings over the recent days in some Iranian cities as nothing but [part of] the deceit and hypocrisy of the US administration,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Saturday, according to state outlet PressTV. “The Iranian people attach no value to the opportunistic remarks by American officials and [President Donald] Trump himself.”

PressTV also cited an “analyst” Saturday condemning the United States for “draconian” sanctions against the regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The “analyst” claimed the sanctions are meant “to create some kind of a chaos within the country from certain sectors and then they are going to manipulate that into some kind of a political issue.”

An estimated thousands took to the streets of Iran beginning late Thursday to protest the regime. Among the protesters’ objections was the astronomical rise in prices of certain commodities following President Hassan Rouhani’s promise of prosperity after the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal. Evidence indicates that, rather than invest in the nation, Iran’s leaders have used the money to arm Hezbollah and groups like Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), which initially began as an anti-Islamic State militia but have since turned on the United States and the Iraqi Kurds.

The protesters rapidly switched from objecting to their economic woes to demanding the regime respect their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including protests against mandatory hijab for women and the liberation of political prisoners. Among the slogans protesters chanted were “Death to Rouhani,” “Death to Hezbollah,” “We don’t want an Islamic Republic,” “The mullahs must be killed,” and “Political prisoners should be freed.”

Despite the clear rejection of the regime itself, Iranian officials are attempting to frame the protests as economic unrest. Iranian First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri issued remarks on Saturday assuring Iranians that the government “will double efforts to resolve economic problems” and that the economy is “on the right track.”

Iranian media have also responded to the protests by diverting attention to government-organized rallies against the United States and the West generally. Tasnim News, another Iranian outlet with ties to the state, claimed that an organized rally on Saturday was meant to honor “a huge rally back in 2009 in which the nation reaffirmed allegiance to the Islamic Republic Establishment.”

2009 was marked not by a “huge rally” in support of the Ayatollah, but by a string of protests against the regime in which Iranian police arrested 4,000 people and death toll estimates ranged from “at least 30” into the hundreds.

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