The White House on Tuesday expressed support for protesters demonstrating against the Iranian government, but stopped short of calling for regime change.
US Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday called the protests an “organic popular uprising organized by brave Iranian citizens.”
She said the international community “cannot sit silent” as those demonstrating are met with violence.
“The United States supports the Iranian people and we call on the regime to respect its citizens’ basic right to peacefully express their desire for change,” she said.
Asked whether the ultimate goal is for Iran’s Islamist government to be replaced, Sanders said the US hopes Iran begins to respect the rights of its people and ends its support for terrorist groups. She said it was possible the current regime could reform and meet those demands.
The Trump administration also raised the possibility it could impose more sanctions on Iran to punish it for cracking down on protesters.
US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said sanctions are one tool the US has to respond to Iran’s behavior.
The US is “watching reports very closely of any potential human rights abuses,” she said, alluding to existing sanctions authorities that allow the US to target Iran for human rights violations.
Nauert said the US is expressing support for the Iranian people and for their right to free expression and called the protesters “brave” and “courageous.”
Violent demonstrations have rocked Iran since Thursday leaving at least 21 people dead, with protests that started over the economy turning against the Islamic regime as a whole.
The wave of demonstrations, that kicked off in second city Mashhad on December 28 and quickly spread, is the biggest in the tightly controlled country since unrest over a disputed election in 2009.
US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized Tehran since the latest protests began, on Tuesday praised the demonstrators for acting against the “brutal and corrupt” regime and said Iranians had “little food, big inflation and no human rights.”
Iran’s foreign ministry fired back that the US leader was “wasting his time sending useless and insulting tweets” and would be better off focusing on “homeless and hungry people” in his own country.
Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, on Tuesday called on the international community to speak out on the unfolding protests in Iran, saying the US would seek emergency UN talks on the situation.
“The people of Iran are crying out for freedom,” Haley said at a news conference. “All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause.”
She said the United States would be seeking emergency sessions of the UN Security Council and the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission in the coming days.