Iran Foreign Minister Warns Neighbors Against Fomenting Unrest

Iran’s foreign minister on Monday warned neighboring countries against fomenting unrest after anti-government protests roiled the country over the past two weeks, The Washington Post reports. The remarks by Mohammad Javad Zarif at a security conference in Tehran echoed previous allegations by Iranian officials, who have blamed the violence that accompanied some of the protests on the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

“Some countries tried to misuse the recent incidents. No country can create a secure environment for itself at the expense of creating insecurity among its neighbors. Such efforts” will only backfire,” Zarif said, without naming them, the official IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying.

Zarif said Washington continues to ignore “concrete realities in the region”, noting that its interventionist and destabilizing policies have fueled and worsened the ongoing crises in the region.

“The U.S. policies and its intervention in the region have been the major challenge that has fueled current crises and made them more complicated,” Zarif said on Monday addressing the second edition of Tehran Security conference. “The U.S. continues to ignore the concrete realities in the region, and persists in its destabilizing and destructive policies such as maintaining its illegal military presence in Syria”.

More than 200 politicians and analysts from Iran and abroad are attending the one-day conference on “Regional Security in West Asia: Emerging Trends and Challenges”.

The anti-government demonstrations first broke out in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city, on Dec. 28 and later spread to several other cities and towns. The protests were the largest seen in Iran since the disputed 2009 presidential election. They were sparked by a hike in food prices amid soaring unemployment but some demonstrators later called for the government’s overthrow and chanted against the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

At least 21 people were killed and hundreds arrested. Large pro-government rallies were held in response. In the past few days, Iranian authorities have said the protests are waning, and on Sunday, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claimed the nation and its security forces had ended the unrest.

The Guard blamed the unrest on the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as an exiled opposition group known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, and supporters of the monarchy that was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Zarif also mentioned an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Friday. The United States had called the meeting, portraying Iranian protests as a human rights issue that could spill over into an international problem.

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said the session had put Iran on notice that “the world will be watching” its actions, but envoys from several other countries expressed reservations about whether the council was the right forum for the issue.

Zarif on Monday depicted the session as a fiasco, saying the Trump administration is “isolated at the international level.” The world “witnessed that (all other) members of the UN Security Council spoke about preventing the meddling in Iran’s internal affairs,” he said.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani meanwhile said that despite the exploitation of the protests by outsiders, authorities should listen to the demonstrators’ economic grievances.

“People rightfully say: ‘See us, listen to our words,’” Rouhani said.

Rouhani, a relative moderate, also argued against the permanent suspension of social media applications that authorities had taken offline at the height of the protests, including the popular messaging app Telegram, which is used by an estimated 40 million Iranians – half the population.

“You had a good sleep while 40 million people were in trouble. Some 100,000 people have lost their jobs over this past week” because of the suspension of the apps,” Rouhani said, referring to their widespread use in online commerce.