In October 2022, President Biden toughened his stand on Iran amid protests over the death of a young Kurdish woman detained for inappropriate dress. On October 3, Biden endorsed Iran’s protests and vowed to impose “further costs” on the government for its crackdown on nationwide protests, many led by schoolgirls and women. “The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery,” he said.
On October 12, he issued his first National Security Strategy. The White House criticized Iran’s nuclear program, meddling in the wider Middle East, and support for terrorism. It made no mention of diplomacy surrounding the 2015 nuclear deal which had been abandoned by the Trump administration. Biden had pledged during the president campaign that he would return the United States to the deal if Iran rolled back its program. Diplomacy launched in April 2021 but was deadlocked when the national strategy was released.
Biden reiterated his support for protestors on October 15. “The Iranian government is so oppressive, you can’t have anything but an enormous amount of respect for those people marching in the streets,” he said. “I was surprised by the courage of the people and women taking to the street–taking off their head scarf. It’s really been amazing.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi condemned Biden’s remarks. “The comments of the American President in support of chaos, assassination and insecurity in Iran once again proved the falseness of the claim to support human rights, security and peace and gave meaning to the title of the Great Devil,” Raisi said in a cabinet meeting on October 16. “The enemy seeks to induce despair and hopelessness by the recent events and we must take effective measures to advance affairs and solve people’s problems by confronting this conspiracy by the enemies.”
On the Protests
October 3: “I remain gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protestors in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity. They are calling for just and universal principles, which underpin the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For decades, Iran’s regime has denied fundamental freedoms to its people and suppressed the aspirations of successive generations through intimidation, coercion, and violence. The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery.
“The United States is making it easier for Iranians to access the Internet, including through facilitating greater access to secure, outside platforms and services. The United States is also holding accountable Iranian officials and entities, such as the Morality Police, that are responsible for employing violence to suppress civil society. This week, the United States will be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protestors. We will continue holding Iranian officials accountable and supporting the rights of Iranians to protest freely.”
October 15: “The Iranian government is so oppressive, you can’t have anything but an enormous amount of respect for those people marching in the streets.
“I was surprised by the courage of people and women taking the street — taking off their head scarf. I mean, it’s really been amazing. It’s really been amazing. But they’re — they’re not — they’re not a good group, in the government.”
In U.S. National Security Strategy
The key points included:
- Iran interferes in the internal affairs of neighbors, proliferates missiles and drones through proxies, is plotting to harm Americans, including former officials, and is advancing a nuclear program beyond any credible civilian need.
- In the Middle East, we have worked to enhance deterrence toward Iran, de-escalate regional conflicts, deepen integration among a diverse set of partners in the region, and bolster energy stability.
- Together, we will support effective democratic governance responsive to citizen needs, defend human rights and combat gender-based violence, tackle corruption, and protect against external interference or coercion, including from the PRC, Russia, or Iran.
- This new framework builds on the recent progress regional states have made to bridge their enduring divides. We will continue to work with allies and partners to enhance their capabilities to deter and counter Iran’s destabilizing activities. We will pursue diplomacy to ensure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon, while remaining postured and prepared to use other means should diplomacy fail. Iran’s threats against U.S. personnel as well as current and former U.S. officials will not be tolerated, and as we have demonstrated, we will respond when our people and interests are attacked. As we do so, we will always stand with the Iranian people striving for the basic rights and dignity long denied them by the regime in Tehran.