US President Donald Trump gives a thumbs-up to reporters as he boards Air Force One.
(photo credit: CARLOS BARRIA / REUTERS)
NEW YORK — The Trump administration weighed in on a dramatic wave of protests gripping Iran this week with forceful rhetoric, warning the Islamist government that the world is watching its treatment of demonstrators three days after they began taking to the streets.
Donald Trump’s response— nearly one year into his presidency— has become a test of leadership and yet another point of comparison with his predecessor, Barack Obama, who in his own first year grappled with a similar moment of unrest in Iran viewed to this day as a critical decision point in his presidency.
At that time, in 2009, Obama had already made overtures to Iran’s supreme leader— the man who would decide the fate of the nation’s nuclear program, then the cause of a global crisis, and also the man at the center of protestors’ ire. Three days passed before Obama said that the Iranian people must be able to choose their leaders, and expressed concern over the treatment of demonstrators.
Three days of protests also passed before Trump offered his first comments. But this time they came in the form of tweets.
“Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever,” Trump wrote on Saturday. On Sunday, he warned Iran against violating the human rights of its people.
“Big protests in Iran,” he said. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism. Looks like they will not take it any longer.”
Online videos show Tehran street protests (REUTERS)
“The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!” he added.
Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement: "The Iranian government is being tested by its own citizens. We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day."
The protests, which initially focused on economic hardships but now include anti-government messages, appeared to resume for a fourth day on Sunday despite Tehran's warnings of a crackdown
and restrictions on messaging apps used by the demonstrators.
The protests are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
US Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Trump should give a nationwide address, laying out the terms of an improved nuclear agreement with Iran.
"President Trump is tweeting - very sympathetically to the Iranian people," Graham said on CBS News' Face the Nation
program. "But you just can't tweet here. You have to lay out a plan."
On the same program, Republic Representative Will Hurd of Texas said the United States should support peaceful protests in Iran.
If Iran cracks down, he said, "that's where we should be talking about sanctions because these are human rights abuses."