WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday announced its support for the fresh protests inside Iran, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attributing the country’s woes to Tehran’s support for terror groups and its destabilizing regional activities.
“The Iranian government is squandering its citizens’ resources, 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,” America’s top diplomat said in a statement. “It should surprise no one that protests continue in Iran.”
On Monday, hundreds of Iranians demonstrated in the streets of Tehran, just as merchants in the city’s Grand Bazaar closed their shops to protest Iran’s economic troubles. Smaller protests continued on Tuesday.
In recent months, the country’s currency has plummeted against the US dollar and the Trump administration announced plans to restore economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic after US President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Iran nuclear deal in May. And on Monday, the rial hit 88,000 to the dollar in the black market, marking a steep decline from 59,000 last month.
The protests — which were reported to occur in other Iranian cities besides Tehran — were similar to those that broke out between December 2017 and January 2018, in which scores of civilians objected to the government of President Hassan Rouhani for both its economic management and repressive policies.
Those demonstrations were the largest in Iran since the so-called Green Revolution in 2009, which were met with a massive crackdown by the regime.
The Trump administration was quick to back the protesters earlier this year, contrasting with the Obama administration’s reluctance to take a position eight years earlier.
Pompeo, who was CIA director until he replaced Rex Tillerson in May, expressed the same sentiment on Wednesday, condemning the Iranian regime and lending the United States’ full backing of its citizens’ demands.
“We condemn the government’s same futile tactics of suppression, imprisonment of protestors, and the denial of Iranians’ frustrations,” he said. “The people of Iran are tired of the corruption, injustice, and incompetence from their leaders. The world hears their voice.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday sought to calm growing discontent at the tanking economy, assuring the public the country would be able to withstand the new sanctions imposed by Trump.
In speech broadcast live on state TV, Rouhani blamed the spontaneous demonstrations that erupted across the country a day earlier on “foreign media propaganda,” and accused the US of waging “an economic war” against Tehran.
“Even in the worst case, I promise that the basic needs of Iranians will be provided. We have enough sugar, wheat, and cooking oil. We have enough foreign currency to inject into the market,” Rouhani said according to the Reuters news agency.
The president accused Washington of waging a “psychological, economic and political war” on Iran, and warned it would pay a high price for exiting the 2015 accord that lifted international sanctions in exchange for a scaling back of Tehran’s atomic program.
“Withdrawal was the worst decision he [Trump] could make. It was appalling. It hurt America’s global reputation,” he added. “The US cannot defeat our nation, our enemies are not able to get us to their knees.”
The protests have seen unusual scenes of demonstrators chanting against continued Iranian spending of billions of dollars on regional proxy wars and support for terrorist groups, which many say has meant less investment in the struggling economy at home.
In recent years, Iran has provided financial aid to Palestinian terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Shiite militias in Iraq. Since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Tehran has poured a reported $6 billion into propping up Syrian president Bashar Assad’s government.
TOI staff contributed to the report