On Iran, Trump Administration Encourages Support for Protesters

The Trump administration is lobbying countries worldwide to support Iranians’ right to peaceful protest and is prepared to impose fresh sanctions if Iran’s government cracks down forcefully on the demonstrations spreading throughout the country, U.S. officials said as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.

The new U.S. sanctions would be imposed under existing authority to respond to human-rights violations and could be aimed at the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in a bid to minimize doing economic harm to the Iranians carrying out the protests, the officials added.

The developments add a new and unexpected layer to the complex relationship between the U.S. and Iran, which had been radically shifted by President Donald Trump’s complaints about the nuclear accord and Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East as that of Islamic State declines.

“We are encouraging all nations around the world to publicly condemn the government violence and to support the legitimate, basic rights of those protesting. We know that the IRGC plays a big role in the decisions and actions of the government,” said Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, said in an interview.

In an effort to mobilize international support for its stance, Trump administration officials have been working on a joint statement with the UK, France, Germany, and Italy that would urge Iranian authorities to respect their citizens’ rights and not to use violence against the protesters. The Trump administration is also eyeing action at the United Nations in the coming days, officials said.

“We are actively collecting all information on human-rights abuses in Iran against peaceful protesters,” Hook said.

Some experts said the Trump administration was right to speak out about the current protests but said its statements needed to be more disciplined and part of a coordinated strategy.

“What’s needed are carefully crafted statements of solidarity with the Iranian people rather than freewheeling tweets from Trump encouraging protesters, which would be counterproductive. What the U.S. government does, rather than says, is much more important. We should make clear to companies and countries around the world that those complicit in providing Tehran the means and technology to inflict violence and a communications blackout on Iranian society will face censure from the U.S.,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It’s not often that a president has a chance to rewrite history and correct a blunder by one of his predecessors; to shoot an historic mulligan, as it were.  But that’s what President Trump has in dealing with Iran this week: a chance to reverse the shameful failures of his predecessors in dealing with the Islamic Republic, and incidentally to rock the Middle East from end to end.

With the revival of demonstrations in Iran, however, President Trump has an unprecedented opportunity to reset the U.S. policy toward the Islamic Republic.  He’s already signaled his displeasure with the Iran nuclear deal; his tweets warning the mullahs that “the world is watching” are a further signal that he understands that the fate not only of Iran but peace in the Middle East, depends on whether those demonstrators succeed or fail—and that the U.S. can act to help them succeed.

The New York Times and Obama’s former UN ambassador Susan Rice say the best thing Trump can do about the demonstrations in Iran is to “be quiet.”  That should be proof, if any is needed, that speaking up is the right thing to do, politically as well as morally.

Some U.S. allies have issued their own statements on the protests in Iran. Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, said Sunday on Twitter that he was “watching events in Iran with concern” and that “citizens should have the right to demonstrate peacefully.”

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Monday called on Iran’s government “to respect demonstrators’ freedom of assembly and their right to give voice to their opinion freely and peacefully.” He said the confrontations of the past days made it “all the more important for all sides to refrain from taking any violent action.”

Catherine Ray, a spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, said the EU expected the right to peaceful demonstration and freedom of expression to be guaranteed, in keeping with statements from Iran’s president.