Protests: U.S. Reaction

November 18, 2019
Updated

The Trump administration offered support to Iranians protesting a hike in gas prices announced on November 15. “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,” said a White House statement.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also expressed support for the demonstrators. “As I said to the people of Iran almost a year and a half ago: The United States is with you,” he tweeted. Pompeo also retweeted his statement from July 2018, which backed widespread protests fueled by low wages and deteriorating economic conditions. On November 18, 2019, Pompeo told reporters that the United States was closely monitoring the situation and was deeply concerned by reports of fatalities. He called on the regime to allow its people unfettered access to the internet, which was almost completely shut down two days earlier. The following are statements by U.S. officials on the Iranian protests.

 

President Donald Trump

“Iran is killing perhaps thousands and thousands of people right now as we speak, that it why they cut off the internet so people can’t see what is going on.”

“Not just small numbers which are bad, big numbers which are really bad, and really big numbers ... It is a terrible thing and the world has to be watching.”

—Dec. 3, 2019, during a visit to the NATO Summit in London

 

 

White House Press Statement

The United States supports 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.

—Nov. 17, 2019, statement from the White House press secretary

 

State Department 

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, Iran has been a terror cesspool since 1979, and some would argue that – and some would say that there are more – is more unrest there now than any other time since their revolution.  In fact, the word is they have experienced the deadliest political unrest in 40 years.  It began two weeks ago with a sharp increase in gasoline prices; within 72 hours, they just started killing protestors, but the outrage hasn’t stopped.  Some are calling for the overthrow of the government.

Now, we watched as President Obama did nothing during their revolution early on in his administration.  He did not want to poison these nuclear negotiations.  What are you guys going to do support them while not becoming the target of the – becoming the target of the unrest?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Brian, we’ve already done a lot.  We’ve rallied the world to denounce the harsh response that the Iranian leadership has.  I’ve seen numbers that vary from as few as a hundred to many times more than that who have been killed by the Iranian security forces – just simple people who wanted to go out and protest to gain their political freedom, their political rights inside of Iran.  We know that there have been several thousand people already detained, put in prisons like Evin prison.  This is a regime that is spoiling the very demands that their people are putting on them.

These protests are a direct result of economic collapse, the absence of political freedoms, and a regime that has sent their young boys off to fight and come back dead, and hasn’t used that money for the betterment of the Iranian people.  You’re seeing these protests as a direct result of that.  We’ve supported those protestors.  We’ve done our best to make sur they can continue to communicate by using the internet, which the Iranian leadership attempted to shut down in its entirety.  This administration has taken a completely opposite view of the important political protests, the freedom-seeking, the freedom-loving people of Iran, than President Obama and his administration did.

QUESTION:  They’re mostly between 19 and 26, young – low-income, young men who are standing up and fighting.  We have nothing to do with the unrest.  They are fed up with this regime that has taken their money and given it to Hamas and Hizballah.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, and they want to work, Brian.  Yeah, they want to work.  They want to live their lives.  They want to take care of their families.  They don’t want to go fight far-off wars against people with who – which they have nothing against.  This is pretty straightforward.

—Dec. 2, 2019, in an interview on Fox & Friends

 

“Our policy from the very inception of the administration is to deny the Iranian regime, the kleptocrats in charge of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the resources to foment terror and to, frankly, punish their own citizens as well, and to put their citizens at risk by underwriting Hizballah and Shia militias in Iraq.  So that’s been our effort, our international effort.

What you’ve seen in these past weeks is, frankly, a follow-on to what’s been going on at a low level for an awfully long time, is the Iranian people saying enough – enough of the kleptocracy; enough of the theocracy; enough of the imperialist bent around the world that’s putting our brothers’ and sisters’ lives at risk and denying us the capacity to simply live normal lives.

It was triggered by a decision that the Islamic Republic of Iran leadership made about gas subsidies.  They removed some of them, and that fomented significant political protests and protests against the regime leadership.  You saw over the past – goodness, it’s been now a week – in response to that what the leadership in Iran did.  They shut off the internet so that they could engage in activities essentially in the dark, without communications.  And second, they instigated a political crackdown, where – while we can’t verify the numbers – international human rights organizations have said there were at least 100-plus that have been killed as a result of violence perpetrated by the Iranian regime.

This is simply the Iranian people seeking freedom and economic success and a regime that’s denying those two things to them.”

—Nov. 26, 2019, in an interview on The Ben Shapiro Show

 

“The Iranian people are, once again, on the streets because of the regime’s poor economic management.  And instead of addressing their grievances, Tehran has responded with violence and by blaming those outside of the country.

Last week, the regime shut down the internet to prevent the truth about the protests from getting out.  I asked Iranians – I asked Iranians to share their messages with the United States so we could expose and sanction abuses of the Iranian regime.

We have received to date nearly 20,000 messages, videos, pictures, notes of the regime’s abuses through Telegram messaging services.  I hope they will continue to be sent to us.

We will continue to sanction Iranian officials who are responsible for these human rights abuses, just like we did last week to Iran’s Minister of Communications.

The Iranian regime also continues to export cruelty outside its own borders.  Last week, an Iranian dissident, Massoud Malvi, was assassinated in Istanbul after he defected to Turkey from Iran.

The killing of Mr. Malvi is yet another tragic example in a long string of suspected Iran-backed assassination attempts outside of Iranian soil.  The regime’s brutality and amorality know no international boundaries.

To the courageous people of Iran who refuse to stay silent about 40 years of abuse by the ruling regime, I say simply this:  The United States hears you.  We support you and we will continue to stand with you in your struggle for a brighter future for your people and for your great nation.”

—Nov. 26, 2019, in remarks to the press

 

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your time today. As we know, Iran is going through a series of protests. In Iran, people are protesting against the regime right now. What is your reaction to these protests?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thanks for having me on, and I really appreciate the opportunity to hopefully speak directly to the Iranian people. We want a good life for them. We want a successful economy. We want them to be able to spend time with their families. And we’ve watched a regime that has instead squandered money on careless wars all across the world; we’ve watched them foment assassination campaigns in Europe – truly not doing what it is the Iranian people want them to do.

And so our efforts, this administration’s efforts have been to convince the regime, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s leaders, to behave like a normal nation and focus their efforts on taking care of their own people rather than on fomenting terrorism all around the world.

QUESTION: So does – U.S. has been applying maximum pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran. And now the government in Iran has been forced to increase the gas prices, which led to people taking out to the extreme. Were you expecting this to happen?

SECRETARY POMPEO: You have to remember that the reason for the challenges to the Islamic Republic of Iran’s economy aren’t the American sanctions. This long predates any of that. This is massive mismanagement of the Iranian economy. It’s the fact they’ve sent young Iranian kids off to fight in wars and die. It’s the fact that they don’t permit companies to engage in activities that would promote wealth for the Iranian people. Instead, the kleptocrats, the government-owned enterprises, the Qods Force operated companies steal money from the Iranian people. The reason that the economy is struggling, and the reason that you see these protests all across the country are because the Iranian leadership has failed the Iranian people. They haven’t allowed the economy to grow; they haven’t created opportunity. Instead, they’ve behaved like kleptocrats, stealing the wealth of the Iranian people for their own personal enrichment.

QUESTION: The Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, he just accused the United States along with Israel of orchestrating these protests in Iran. What is your response to that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, the last refuge of those who fail is to blame someone else. This has nothing to do with anyone outside of Iran fomenting these protests. This is – this is the Iranian people struggling for freedom, demanding their rights, desiring the capacity to take care of their own people. We’re working to make sure that every Iranian has their human rights respected. We opened up the Rewards for Justice Program. I hope anyone watching this who sees the Iranian regime do something that’s wrong, to take away the human rights of any Iranian, will go on Twitter or go online and send us a note letting the American – we’ll do our best to help the Iranian people be successful.

QUESTION: As you mentioned, you tweeted recently asking the Iranian people to submit their videos and picture of any human rights violation. What is the U.S. going to do to the people who are perpetrating these crimes against the Iranian people?

SECRETARY POMPEO: First, we think sunlight’s the best disinfectant. We think identifying these – so to the extent people can send us this information, we think it would be enormously valuable to convince some of the people, frankly, who are inside of Iran who don’t want to be part – do not want to be part of these – pushing back against these protests, who don’t want to engage in these human rights violations, to know that the whole world will see them. Their families will see them. Their loved ones who may live somewhere else in the world will see that they’re behaving in ways that aren’t in the best interest of good, ordinary Iranian people.

And second, as we did today to the minister of communications and information, we’ll impose sanctions. We’ll deny them American benefits, visas, all the things that accrue to those who behave as leaders ought to behave. We’ll – we’ll put a set of sanctions in place that will make it more difficult and raise the costs for the ayatollah and his regime.

QUESTION: As you mentioned, the U.S. Treasury just – just announced that they’re sanctioning the Iranian communications ministry and also the minister Mohammad Azari Jahromi. What is your message to the Iranian leaders or officials who are helping to basically crush this uprising?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So this particular sanction was a direct result of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s decision by its leadership to shut down the internet. The basic right of every Iranian to speak, to exercise their freedom, to communicate, they shut down. It’s now come back a little bit. I don’t know if it’s operating at 5, 10, or 15 percent, but they tried to quell the protests by denying the Iranian people their voice. So that’s what – today we sanctioned the individual that was responsible for this. We’ll continue to do that. We’ve tried to keep the internet open, and we’ve done what we can to assist there. We’ve encouraged big companies who sponsor and permit the Iranian leadership to communicate when the Iranian people can’t, to take down those sites. We hope that they will. We simply want the Iranian people to have every opportunity to be protected, their individual human rights preserved, and for them to have opportunity going forward.

QUESTION: As you mentioned, the Iran internet is all but shut down. At the same time, the Iranian leaders seem to have no problem communicating on Twitter and Facebook. What do you think about that?

SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, it’s just wrong. It reminds of me of when Zarif comes to America and speaks to the American people, and yet, the American Secretary of State isn’t permitted to travel to Tehran to speak to the Iranian people. It’s wrong. President Trump often talks about reciprocity and fairness and equality. Today what you have is the regime, those who are destroying human rights in the country, those who have destroyed the economy of Iran, they have the ability to speak to the world and between each other, and the good, hard-working Iranian people have been denied that.

QUESTION: So estimates say that around 168 people have been killed in recent – in protests in Iran. What is your assessment of the current situation in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and why do you think the regime is responding to protestors so forcefully?

SECRETARY POMPEO: So I’ve seen the reports of the deaths, and we mourn the loss of any Iranian who was harmed by their own regime for simply going to the street to speak peacefully about their human rights. We watch these protests. We hope that the Iranian regime will begin to behave in a way that respects the Iranian people, allows their economy to grow, doesn’t continue to build out a nuclear program, an expensive nuclear program which takes money from the Iranian people, to not underwrite Hizballah, which takes the very money that these people want. The reason they had to raise gas prices – this is where we started – was because they’re funding Hizballah, and they’re funding Shia militias in Iraq. If those monies were put towards better roads, better infrastructure to help the Iranian people, these protests, I think, would calm down immediately. That’s the kind of reform that I hope will – the Iranian regime will undertake. There’s no indication that they have any intention of doing so.

—Nov. 18, 2019, in an interview with Arash Aalaei of Iran International

 

“The United States is monitoring the ongoing protests in Iran closely.  We condemn strongly any acts of violence committed by this regime against the Iranian people and are deeply concerned by reports of several fatalities.  We’ve been at that since the beginning of this administration.

The Islamic Republic must cease violence against its own people and should immediately restore the ability of all Iranians to access a free and open Internet.  The world is watching.

The Iranian people will enjoy a better future when their government begins to respect basic human rights, abandons its revolutionary posture and its destabilizing foreign policy in the region, and behaves simply like a normal nation.

The choice is clearly with the regime.”

—Nov. 18, 2019, in a press conference

 

Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook

“On November 16th, protests were spreading throughout the country.  In Mahshahr, a city in southwest Iran, a number of Iranian demonstrators blocked a road.  The State Department has received videos of what happened next.  Without warning, the IRGC opened fire on the protesters, killing several people.  Many of the protesters fled to nearby marshlands to escape.  The IRGC tracked them down and surrounded them with machine guns mounted on trucks.  They then sprayed the protesters with bullets.  Between the rounds of machine gun fire, the screams of the victims can be heard.  In this one incident alone, the regime murdered as many as a hundred Iranians and possibly more.  When it was over, the regime loaded the bodies into trucks.  We do not yet know where these bodies went, but we are learning more and more about how the Iranian regime treats its own people.

We have seen reports of many hundreds more killed in and around Tehran.  And as the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over a thousand Iranian citizens since the protests began.  We cannot be certain because the regime blocks information.  Among those murdered are at least a dozen children, including 13 and 14-year-olds.  We have received reports from family members of victims who tried to recover the bodies.  The authorities demanded that the families first pay the cost of the bullets they used.  In many cases, authorities would not hand over the bodies until their family promised not to hold public funerals.

Many thousands of Iranians have been wounded, and at least 7,000 protesters have been detained in Iran’s prisons.  Many of these protesters have been sent to two prisons, the Great Tehran Penitentiary and Qarchak Prison.  Today Secretary Pompeo has determined these entities meet the criteria for gross human rights violations set out in CAATSA, and the State Department is submitting to Congress the names of these entities.

The United States calls for the immediate release of all protesters detained in prison, as well as all the political prisoners currently held by the regime.

Now is the time for all nations to stand with the Iranian people, diplomatically isolate the regime, and sanction those officials who are responsible for murdering innocent Iranians.

There has been overwhelming support for the Iranian people by the American people.  It is clear there is a bipartisan consensus that the regime’s treatment of the Iranian people is abhorrent and unacceptable.  We are unified here in the United States, and the international community likewise should be unified and support the Iranian people.

These protests have made clear what Secretary Pompeo and I have been saying for quite some time:  The Iranian people want the regime to focus on investing in people, not proxies.  They are sick of the regime squandering its wealth on proxy warfare, which leads only to economic pressure and diplomatic isolation.  Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Iranian regime continues to do, even while the Iranian people were filling the streets, calling for an end to sectarian adventurism.”

—Dec. 5, 2019, in a press briefing

 

 

State Department Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus

 

U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates John Rakolta

“They are frustrated. They want freedom,” Ambassador John Rakolta said at the Dubai Airshow. “These developments that you see right now are their own people telling them, ‘We need change and to sit down with the American government.’”

—Nov. 18, 2019, in a press conference at the Dubai Airshow

 

Updated