Vice President Mike Pence discussed the situation in Iran with Greta Van Susteren for Voice of America on Wednesday, then made a strong statement on Twitter in which he contrasted President Trump’s support for demonstrators with the “failure to support freedom in the last administration.”
Pence said on Twitter that he hoped to speak “directly to the Iranian people” with his Voice of America interview, which would be aired in Iran.
“The message from POTUS and me is clear: Unlike the past, this time America stands with the brave Iranian protesters who are risking their lives for freedom!” he wrote.
“It’s important to remember that first and foremost that Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Not only do they oppress their own people, deny human rights to their own, but they also export terrorists across the region, and continue to be an enormously dangerous destabilizing force,” Pence told van Susteren in the interview.
The vice president said the sight of Iranians “rising up to demand change in their country should hearten every freedom-loving American, and people who cherish freedom around the world.”
Pence contrasted Trump’s response with “the deafening silence from an American president in 2009 during the Green Revolution in Iran.” When van Susteren objected that Obama eventually did make a statement after a few days, Pence dismissed it as a tepid response that did not compare with the energetic support given to protesters by the Trump administration. Pence pointed out:
I was there. I was a member of the Congress, you recall I served on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives. I remember back in 2009 seeing this largely youth-driven movement following a fraudulent election in Iran: people taking to the streets, demonstrating incredible courage that the people of Iran did to claim a democratic and free future. And we looked to the White House in those days in 2009, we looked for American leadership, and there was none. There was deafening silence from the Obama administration.
Pence recalled the Obama administration remained inert until legislation he co-authored made it through the House and then passed the Senate with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, highlighting “the contrast between the silence and the failure to support freedom in the last administration and President Trump’s unapologetic willingness to stand with the courageous people of Iran.”
“I know it is giving hope to the people on the streets of those cities across that country,” he said. We’re going to continue to support them in not just verbally, but as they bring about change in their country. I can assure you the United States and the wider world stands with the people of Iran who want a better and more prosperous and freer future.”
He said there was much the United States and its allies could do for the people of Iran if they “stand up for their own freedom” and “reject the radical ideology that overtook their country decades ago, and continues to beset the wider world through the export of terrorism from Iran.”
Pence strongly rejected arguments that President Obama’s nuclear deal is helping Iran to liberalize. Instead, he held up President Ronald Reagan’s condemnation of the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” as the kind of moral leadership that can inspire people to overthrow oppressive governments. Pence argued:
Look, the last administration not only was silent when the good and courageous people of Iran were rising up for democracy, but they also pushed forward and embraced the disastrous Iran nuclear deal that President Trump refused to recertify, and we’re continuing to provide leadership on. You know the hope of the Iran nuclear deal is that it would encourage a more moderate Iran, but we’ve seen nothing of the kind.
Later in the interview, he said President Trump will make a decision about restoring sanctions on Iran by the middle of January.
Pence contended that sanctions weakened Iran to the point where mass demonstrations like the Green Revolution and today’s protests are possible, and pointed to signs that tough sanctions might also be working on North Korea.
“As you see what’s happening on the streets of Iran, you have to believe that the sanctions are in place today and additional pressure we can bring to bear is having an effect on the nation, it’s having an effect on the economy, it’s emboldening the people of Iran to be able to have the courage to step forward,” he said.
“My hope is that the people of Iran understand that the U.S. and the people of this country are their natural ally,” Pence said on Twitter after the interview. “We want to see them achieve a free and democratic future. We want to see them step away from a regime that continues to menace and threaten the world.”
Pence has been working hard to send a message of bipartisan support for the Iranian people, through such measures as rounding up supportive tweets from Democratic leaders. At the same time, he has been firm on the point that President Obama’s response to the Green Revolution was inadequate, and the Trump administration will do better.
Pence has arguably hammered Obama harder than anyone else in the administration, including the outspoken president. His comments today echo criticism he made of President Obama’s approach to the Green Revolution at the time, and reflect the same conviction that strong American support for the Iranian people can make a positive difference at such a crucial juncture.
“I appreciate the fact that the president said the protesters have a right to be heard and represented, and I appreciate the fact that he said he is troubled, but I respectfully disagree with the administration’s decision to essentially draw the line at not meddling and not interfering,” he said in June 2009.
“As long as Donald Trump is POTUS and I am VP, the United States of America will not repeat the shameful mistake of our past when others stood by and ignored the heroic resistance of the Iranian people as they fought against their brutal regime,” Pence vowed on the first day of 2018. “The bold and growing resistance of the Iranian people today gives hope and faith to all who struggle for freedom and against tyranny. We must not and we will not let them down.”