Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently spoke out in favor of the Iran protests, stating that the United States does not have any issues with the Iranian people, only with the regime.
“I think it’s very important that we stand up and say that we understand the Iranian people. Our beef, if we have one, is not with the Iranian people. It is specifically the same regime that the Iranian people, clearly, are fed up with as well,” Mattis told reporters Friday.
The Trump administration has broken from the previous administration’s stance that weighing in on protests would allow Iran’s leaders to paint them as a Western-led movement. President Barack Obama’s hands-off approach during the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran was widely criticized by Iran critics as a missed opportunity.
Trump has tweeted his support for the protesters, which have been primarily blue-collar workers frustrated with the regime’s spending on military engagements in Syria and Yemen and cutting subsidies for its citizens.
Protesters have been chanting “death to Rouhani,” referring to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and “death to the dictator,” referring to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Mattis emphasized that although the U.S. supported the protests, it was up to the Iranian people to decide what kind of government they want.
“So the most important thing, I think, is it’s up to the Iranian people what form of government they have, and to say we believe that they should have the kind of government they want, and, right now, the regime senses that they’ve got a lot of people who aren’t buying this revolutionary regime’s act,” he said.
“Clearly the Iranian people aren’t buying this revolution or export of their terrorism, or whatever the revolutionary regime people want to call it. They’re not buying it there at home. We’re not buying it internationally,” he added.
At least 20 have been reported killed and several thousands arrested during the protests.
On Friday, the Trump administration announced it would waive sanctions, per the nuclear deal, but warned European countries that it would scrap the deal if they do not help strengthen it.