Washington (AFP) – US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sent a message of support on Wednesday to Iranians taking part in strikes and protests against their government.
Washington hopes domestic discontent will pressure or even oust Tehran’s Islamic government, but has been cautious of backing protesters publicly.
As recent demonstrations have grown, however, Pompeo has begun a Twitter campaign, now backed by a formal statement, to amplify opposition voices.
“The people of Iran are tired of the corruption, injustice, and incompetence from their leaders. The world hears their voice,” Pompeo wrote.
The warning followed demonstrations and a rare strike Monday at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, and after earlier reports of street uprisings in provincial cities.
Iran is once again under economic sanctions and has faced mounting economic woes since US President Donald Trump in May pulled Washington out of the 2015 deal with world powers that imposed controls on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.
But the slogans chanted by the crowds and leaking out to the world via social media show that many in the country blame their own government for the downturn.
Pompeo has sought to exploit this and to link the protests to areas where the US has its own complaints, such as Iran’s intervention in regional conflicts.
“The Iranian government is squandering its citizens’ resources,” he said, “whether its adventurism in Syria, its support for Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis, or its ambitions for wastefully expanding its nuclear program, it will only add to the suffering of the people of Iran.”
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure over the country’s finances, with the value of Iran’s rial plunging almost 50 percent in the past six months.
Iranians have been hit by rising prices, and record levels of unemployment have left a third of under 30s out of work.
Protests hit dozens of towns and cities over the new year, leaving at least 25 people dead and highlighting frustrations over the economy.
Rouhani — who signed the nuclear deal with the previous US administration — was re-elected in May 2017 on the promise of boosting the economy and implementing social reforms.
He has been attacked by ultra-conservatives, who have denounced his willingness to talk to the West and have accused him of hurting the economy.