Russia Urges U.S. Not to Interfere in Iran’s ‘Domestic Affairs’

Despite the U.S. denying its involvement in the Iranian protests, a top Russian diplomat warned the U.S. not to meddle in Iran’s internal affairs. The official, speaking from Moscow, stated that Washington’s intent was to use the unrest to undermine the nuclear deal it made with Iran in 2015, The Washington Times reports.

“We warn the U.S. against attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state news agency Tass on Thursday.

U.S. President Donald Trump tried to ramp up pressure on what he called a “brutal and corrupt regime” in Iran amid anti-government protests in the country this week. Much of Trump’s response has focused on playing up perceived errors in foreign policy by the Obama administration, including the 2015 Iran deal.

On Thursday, the United States imposed sanctions on five Iranian companies it alleges are working on part of the Islamic republic’s illegal ballistic missile program. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin linked the measure to recent anti-government protests, arguing that Iran ought to spend more on public welfare than on banned weapons.

Ryabkov also accused Washington of attempting to use the protests “to raise new issues with regard to the JCPOA”, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, which limits Iran’s nuclear development.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran deal, is the international agreement that limits Iran’s nuclear program, including restricting uranium enrichment for 10 years. Iran agreed to the deal in exchange for lifting the economic sanctions that were affecting the country. Trump has long been a vocal critic of the agreement.

Ryabkov was responding to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence who this week said Washington will “not remain silent on Iran” and called for a replacement to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

“If (the U.S.) is looking for reasons to increase pressure on Iran that have nothing to do with the (nuclear) deal, and that’s how it looks like from what we see, then this is an unworthy method that should not be used by a great power,” Ryabkov said.

The 2015 Iran deal gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

“We see no reason whatsoever to change the Iran deal,” he added.

Russia considers a U.S. proposal for an extraordinary meeting of the UN Security Council on the turmoil in Iran “harmful and destructive”, RIA news agency cited Ryabkov as saying on Thursday.

“We see no role for the United Nations Security Council in this issue. Iran’s domestic affairs have nothing to do with the United Nations Security Council’s role,” he said, according to the agency.

Commenting on the possibility of new US sanctions on Iran, Ryabkov said such methods were “illegitimate”. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had suggested the U.S. government could impose sanctions against Iranian officials who repress peaceful protests.

On Thursday, the Kazakh delegation to the UN said the Security Council will meet on Friday at 3 p.m. (2000 GMT) to discuss Iran. Kazakhstan is the Security Council president through January. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said this week that Washington was seeking emergency sessions on Iran at the United Nations in New York and at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The U.S. delegation said on Thursday it had requested the Friday meeting.

It remains difficult for journalists and outsiders to piece together what’s happening beyond Tehran, as Iran is a vast country of 80 million and travel there is restricted. The government also has blocked the messaging app Telegram, which protesters have used to organize their demonstrations and share photos and video. The government allowed access to Instagram to resume Thursday. Senior Trump administration officials have acknowledged their surprise that the protests took hold so quickly.

“This was not on our radar,” said one official, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The officials said they believed conservative opponents of President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate within Iran’s clerically overseen government, started the demonstrations in Mashhad, but quickly lost control of them. That largely mirrors analysts’ beliefs. The officials also said internet suppression by Iranian authorities made it difficult for protesters to publish their videos, with an upload sometimes taking all day. They said the U.S. government is still looking at its options at helping open up the internet, although no decision has been taken yet.