ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE — The United States is “alarmed and appalled” at the crackdown by Iranian authorities on student protesters angered by the death of Mahsa Amini following her detention by the morality police, the White House said Monday.
“We’re alarmed and appalled by reports of security authorities, responding to university students’ peaceful protests with violence and mass arrests,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said aboard Air Force One.
The students “are rightly engaged with the Iranian government’s treatment of women and girls, and the ongoing violent crackdown on peaceful protests.”
Protests have entered their third week since Amini, 22, was pronounced dead on September 16, days after she was detained for allegedly breaching the country’s strict Islamic dress code.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday said the United States and Israel are fomenting the unrest.
But Jean-Pierre said that “this weekend’s crackdowns are precisely the sort of behavior that drives Iran, talented young people to leave the country, by the thousands, to seek the dignity and opportunity elsewhere.”
Despite the tension, the White House spokeswoman made clear that the administration sees its ongoing negotiations to salvage an international deal with Iran over its nuclear program as a separate matter.
“We have concerns with Iran,” she said, but the complex international proposal known as the JCPOA — which seeks to ensure Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon in return for lifting sanctions — “is the best way for us to address the nuclear problem.”
“As long as we believe pursuing JCPOA talks is in the US national security interests, we will do so, and so at the same time, we will continue to use other tools to address other problems with Iran’s behavior.”
Jean-Pierre raised a historical analogy, noting that Ronald Reagan negotiated with his Soviet counterparts on nuclear weapons treaties while doubling down on US opposition to the Communist regime on other matters.
“Even at the height of the Cold War, as President Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,’ he was also engaged in arms control talks,” she said.
“He knew, on the one hand, we had to push back vigorously against the repression of the Soviet Union, and, at the same time, we had to protect and defend the security of ourselves, allies, and our partners,” she said.