Pompeo Says US Stands with Iranian Protesters
Secretary of state retweets message stating support for ‘the proud Iranian people’ amid demonstrations over hikes in gas prices
The Times of Israel
(November 17, 2019) — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday signaled his support for protesters in Iran, who have put renewed pressure on their government as it struggles to overcome the sanctions strangling the country after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
“As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you,” Pompeo said, retweeting a Persian-language tweet he sent out in July 2018 that referenced a speech he made that directly addressed the Iranian people.
“After 40 years of tyranny, the proud Iranian people are not staying silent about their government’s abuses,” Pompeo wrote in the original Persian tweet. “We will not stay silent either. I have a message for the people of Iran: The United States hears you. The United States supports you. The United States is with you.”
Though largely peaceful, demonstrations Saturday devolved into violence in several instances, with online videos purporting to show police officers firing tear gas at protesters and mobs setting fires.
While representing a political risk for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ahead of February parliamentary elections, it also shows the widespread anger among the country’s 80 million people, who have seen their savings evaporate amid scarce jobs and the national rial currency’s collapse.
The demonstrations took place in over a dozen cities in the hours following Rouhani’s decision at midnight Friday to cut gasoline subsidies to fund handouts for Iran’s poor.
Gasoline in the country still remains among the cheapest in the world, with the new prices jumping up to a minimum of 15,000 rials per liter of gas — 50% up from the day before. That’s 13 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. A gallon of regular gasoline in the US costs $2.60 by comparison.
Violence broke out Friday night in Sirjan, a city some 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of Tehran.
The state-run IRNA news agency said “protesters tried to set fire to the oil depot, but they were stopped by police.” It did not elaborate, but online videos circulating on Iranian social media purported to show a fire at the depot as sirens wailed in the background. Another showed a large crowd shouting: “Rouhani, shame on you! Leave the country alone!”
Mohammad Mahmoudabadi, an Interior Ministry official in Sirjan, later told state television that police and demonstrators exchanged gunfire, wounding several. He said many protesters were peaceful, but later masked men armed with guns and knives infiltrated the demonstration.
“They insisted on reaching the oil depot and creating crises,” Mahmoudabadi said.
The semi-official ISNA news agency later quoted Mahmoudabadi as saying the violence killed one person.
Iran Slams ‘Hypocritical’ US Support for Economic Protests
(November 18, 2019) — Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi slammed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for backing protesters in Iran on Sunday, describing a tweet from Washington’s top diplomat as “hypocritical.”
Pompeo said that the US supported the demonstrations that erupted in several cities across the country Friday after Iran’s National Oil Company (NIOPDC) announced increases of 50% to 300% in gas prices.
“Iran’s noble nation knows well that such hypocritical statements are completely void of sincere sympathy,” Mousavi responded on Sunday, according to state-run news agency IRNA.
On Saturday, Pompeo tweeted: “As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you.” He also retweeted his July 2018 statement of support for Iranians protesting against the “tyranny” of their government.
Some 100 banks and 57 shops have been set on fire in the protests, according to semi-official Mehr News quoting an Iranian security organization, and more than 1,000 protesters have been arrested, according to semi-official Fars News Agency.
“Several” people have died in the protests, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech Sunday. Khamenei voiced support for the fuel price increases, and suggested external forces were behind the unrest.
The government says the increase is in the interest of the country and argues it will prevent “fuel smugglers” from exporting Iran’s oil to neighboring countries.
Iran’s government also appears to have forced most of the country’s internet to shut down. On Sunday night, internet watchdog NetBlocks.org said it had been “24 hours since Iran implemented a near-total internet shutdown following hours of partial blackouts amid widespread protests.”
The White House released a statement on Sunday supporting “the Iranian people in their peaceful protests against the regime that is supposed to lead them.”
“We condemn the lethal force and severe communications restrictions used against demonstrators. Tehran has fanatically pursued nuclear weapons and missile programs, and supported terrorism, turning a proud nation into another cautionary tale of what happens when a ruling class abandons its people and embarks on a crusade for personal power and riches,” the statement said.
The fuel price protests come nearly two years after nationwide protests last gripped Iran over economic grievances. Those demonstrations were quashed by an intense crackdown which killed over 26 protesters on the streets and arrested more than 7,000 dissidents in 2018, according to Amnesty International.
Iran’s economy has buckled under crippling US sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew from the country’s landmark nuclear deal in May 2017, unveiling a “maximum pressure” campaign to try to force changes in Tehran’s foreign policy. The country’s currency has since tanked, as prices soared and medicinal and food shortages became widespread.
The fuel hike could further exacerbate economic conditions, forcing wider price increases.
Iran, which is a founding member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), currently has estimated proven crude oil reserves of 155.6 billion barrels, according to energy giant BP.
Earlier this month President Hassan Rouhani announced the discovery of a vast oil field containing an estimated 53 billion barrels of crude oil, which would make it Iran’s second-largest oil field.
CNN’s Sara Mazloumsaki reported from Atlanta. CNN’s Sharif Paget in Atlanta and Nada Altaher in Abu Dhabi also contributed to this report. CNN’s Tamara Qiblawi wrote from Beirut.
As US Weighs In on Iran Protests, Critics Highlight American Culpability for Economic Crisis
(November 19, 2019) — As deadly anti-government protests continue across Iran, Washington has weighed in on the crisis that was ignited by a sudden hike in fuel prices – but come under criticism for the US’ part in contributing to the economic crisis.
Although Donald Trump himself has not yet reacted to the events on Twitter, some American officials have commented on the demonstrations.
The White House issued a statement saying that the United States supports the Iranian people and condemns the government.
And Secretary of State Michael Pompeo also issued messages of support for Iranian protesters and condemned any acts of violence by authorities in the Islamic Republic.
But critics say the Trump administration’s message of support for the people of Iran is not genuine as the United States is partially responsible for the economic crisis they are facing.
US sanctions, combined with the Iranian government’s high levels of corruption and misma
Assal Rad, a research fellow at the National Iranian American Council, said that the policies of the Trump administration have undercut Iranian hopes.
“The Trump administration could end its collective punishment by giving Iranians the economic relief they were promised under the JCPOA, lift sanctions and allow Iran to sell its oil. Forcing the Iranian government to return to full compliance and out of the isolationism that prevents Iranian people from being part of the international community,” Ms Rad told The Independent.
US financial and banking sanctions against Iran have impacted the import of specialised Western-made drugs into the country, contributing to a shortage of life-saving medicine for patients with special and rare diseases.
Human rights experts have been warning about the negative consequences of US economic sanctions on the lives of ordinary Iranians.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director at Human Rights Watch said that if Mike Pompeo really wants to help the people of Iran, he can move to end their collective punishment through sanctions that are strangling their health and economy.
“Iranians are doing what citizens around the Middle East are doing: taking their demands for effective governance to the streets,” Ms Whitson told The Independent.
“The last thing they need is for the US State Department to undermine their protests by manipulating their grievances for political potshots.”
The Trump administration has also been criticised for holding a double standard when it comes to authoritarian governments that are considered US allies, supporting protests only when they seem in line with US foreign policy, but not protests against authoritarian rulers with close ties to America.
“Trump and Pompeo openly support oppressive dictators all over the world. No one seriously believes they care about the rights of Iranians,” a senior Democratic Congressional aide told The Independent, adding that “the statements of our government would have a lot more credibility if we were remotely consistent in our approach.”
In a week when Donald Trump has been embroiled with continuous impeachment hearings that dominated the media, the protests in Iran have not yet made it to the top headlines of most American outlets. But as government violence increases and the death toll rises – with Amnesty reporting on Tuesday that at least 100 protesters have been killed – more attention will be directed towards Iranians.
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