Iranian protesters win bipartisan support in Congress

One senator urges Trump to remove Iran from travel ban to send a tangible signal of US support

Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran on December 30, 2017.
Students protested in a third day of demonstrations, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators. (AFP PHOTO / STR)
Iranian students protest at the University of Tehran on December 30, 2017. Students protested in a third day of demonstrations, videos on social media showed, but were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan array of US lawmakers have voiced adamant support of Iranians protesting against the regime, with some calling on the administration to take action should Tehran’s leaders initiate a brutal crackdown on the demonstrations.

“The world is closely watching how Iranian officials respond to the legitimate calls of Iran’s citizens for reform,” said Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “If the response is violence, repression, and imprisonment, the United States has tools to target human rights abusers.”

Protests entered a sixth day Tuesday,  with at least 21 people killed and hundreds arrested across the country since the unrest began in the city of Mahshad last week. The protests, which have erupted in several cities, are the largest since those that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election.

Many expect the regime to eventually suppress the demonstrations, mirroring a violent crackdown that ended the 2009 protests.

Some Capitol Hill legislators cited former president Barack Obama’s delayed response to the June 2009 Green Revolution demonstrations, which were over a disputed election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected.

Obama took two days after the protests to respond and did not fully commit himself to the Iranian people. While he did condemn the Iran regime’s violent methods for suppressing their right to peacefully assemble, he did not urge the regime to heed their demands and did not express backing for the protesters.

“As everyday Iranians pour into the streets outraged over their government’s misplaced priorities, the US must support them in their inherent right and noble quest for a better future and free, peaceful nation. We have been down this road before,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York, said.

“We must learn our lesson from 2009 and not repeat the same mistake. Millions of Iranians are desperate right now for American leadership to help them turn the tide in Tehran and all throughout Iran.”

One of Zeldin’s Democratic counterparts, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, did not invoke 2009, but expressed worry over the violence unfolding and said the US would back the Iranian people.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Washington, May 12, 2015. (AP/Alex Brandon, File)

“Watching events in Iran with great concern over violence against and arrest of peaceful protestors,” Schiff tweeted. “We stand with the people in Iran and their right to peacefully assemble, petition their government and choose their leaders in a democratic process free from fraud and interference.”

The Trump administration has already commented multiple times on this issue, through both formal statements and the president’s own informal tweets.

On Tuesday morning, Trump said the people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” a day after calling for regime change in the Islamic Republic.

“All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets,'” he added. “The people have little food, big inflation and no human rights. The US is watching!”

US President Donald Trump arrives to board Air Force One at Palm Beach International Airport on Jan. 1, 2018, in West Palm Beach, Florida. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Those remarks were seen as a possible hint of a US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, which was a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration.

In his statement, Cardin, who said he supports “the legitimate desires of the Iranian people for dignity and fundamental freedoms, economic opportunity, and a government that is responsive to its citizens,” emphasized that legislation passed last year to sanction Iran for its human rights violations could be implemented as punitive action against Tehran.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 24, 2017, about the Paris climate agreement. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Moreover, he said, if the Trump administration truly wanted to back the protesters, it would roll back his travel ban, an executive order that disallows citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, including Iran.

“I also urge the Administration to explore options for sending signals of support to the Iranian people,” Cardin said. “A good start would be immediately removing Iran from the travel ban.”

Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who is a vociferous critic of the 2015 nuclear deal, seized on the protests to argue that the accord between world powers and Iran had not moderated the Tehran regime, but emboldened it.

“Even after the billions in sanctions relief they secured through the nuclear deal, the ayatollahs still can’t provide for the basic needs of their own people-perhaps because they’ve funneled so much of that money into their campaign of regional aggression in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen,” he said.

“The protests in Mashhad show that a regime driven by such a hateful ideology cannot maintain broad popular support forever, and we should support the Iranian people who are willing to risk their lives to speak out against it.”

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