U.S. Signals Rare Support for Anti-Regime Protests in Iran, Even as Biden Shrinks From Condemning Mullahs
‘The Iranian people have a right to hold their government accountable. We support their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression online and offline — without fear of violence and reprisal.’
Washington is signaling rare support for anti-regime protesters who have emerged in startling numbers in Iran, but the Biden administration is falling short of outright condemnation of the mullahs even as the president holds on to hope of successful diplomacy.
For now regime enforcers, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Basij, are in control as protests against President Raisi’s economic failures deepen. The unrest started in small towns in the southeastern part of the country and in the Kurdish areas, but has since expanded to cities around the country, even reaching Tehran.
“Brave Iranian protestors are standing up for their rights,” the State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, tweeted yesterday, adding, “The Iranian people have a right to hold their government accountable. We support their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression online and offline — without fear of violence and reprisal.”
In addition to economic-related demands, protesters are now calling explicitly for the resignation of top leaders and an end to the Islamic Republic’s regime. Chants of “death to Khamenei,” referring to the regime’s supreme leader, as well as “death to Raisi” are uttered by Iranians across the social spectrum.
“This round is more serious than in the past, representing a real threat to the regime,” a veteran Israeli broadcaster in the Persian language, Menashe Amir, says. The protest, he tells the Sun, is much wider and all-encompassing than in past waves.
As yet the Revolutionary Guards have managed to hold the line, Mr. Amir adds, but it could soon lose control. “Even regime enforcers have families,” he says, “so they too feel the economic pressures. They may eventually switch sides and join the protesters.”
Part of the regime’s dilemma is that it has few paths for fixing the economy. The government tried to encourage Iranians to buy domestic stocks, but then the markets crashed and investors lost their savings. The regime prints money while the rial keeps losing its value.
Meanwhile the price of wheat — a major staple — is rising rapidly as the Ukraine crisis deepens. Sanctions that were imposed under President Trump’s “maximum pressure” policies continue to bite.
While Communist China evades the American-imposed oil embargo, Beijing is buying Iranian oil at a major discount, which does not help the country pay its external debts.
Less than a year into his presidency, Mr. Raisi has failed to surround himself with economically competent officials. Instead he prefers hardline ideologues.
Frustrated, Iranians are turning against the government, which is yet to offer ideas on getting out of the financial crisis. A Brooklyn-based Iranian dissident, Masih Alinejad, posts daily video clips of protest as she pleads with America and others to act.
“These are Iranian teachers [that] took to the streets in more than 100 cities to protest and many of them got arrested,” Ms. Alinejad tweeted today. “But in the International media you only hear about how the US and its allies are desperate to get a Nuclear deal with Islamic republic.”
As yet Mr. Price’s tweet is the only official Washington reference to the growing crisis in Iran. In it Mr. Price refrained from commenting on Tehran’s refusal so far to negotiate directly with America over a renewal of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
“We continue to believe that getting back into compliance with the agreement would be the best way to address the nuclear challenge posed by Iran,” Secretary of State Blinken told the Senate last month.
Iran, however, keeps raising new barriers, including a demand to remove the Revolutionary Guards from the list of terrorist organizations.
Over the weekend the State Department quietly removed five groups from the terror list in what amounted to a “dress rehearsal for trying to remove terrorism sanctions on the IRGC,” a senior Republican congressional aide told Fox News.
A bipartisan group of legislators has recently attempted to limit concessions that are offered to the Iranian regime and demanded to keep the IRGC on terror list. Yet, Mr. Biden is widely believed to still favor a return to the deal that would entail a wholesale removal of sanctions.
Some in Washington now believe that the growing unrest in Iran will force Mr. Khamenei to revive the 2015 deal in order to remove the onerous sanctions that weigh on the economy. Yet even under pressure, the regime may decline America’s diplomatic pleadings.
“If Khamenei agrees to re-enter the deal, the Iranian people would ask, what’s changed and why are you giving up now,” Mr. Amir says. “Such a change in direction would be perceived as weakness,” he says, “and that’s the last thing the regime needs now.”