The Biden Administration finally voiced some support for the ongoing protests in Iran when journalists asked the State Department for a comment on Tuesday.
Anti-government protests have been taking place in many locations in Iran since early May, but since last week a new round of demonstrations have particularly rocked the oil-rich Khuzestan Province. The collapse of a 10-story building belonging to a well-connected businessman who ignored warnings, killing dozens of people angered residents of Abadan who have been taking to the streets to demand accountability.
The US administration remained silent which did not go unnoticed by Iran watchers and activists, who began asking questions on social media, while the Iranian government deployed thousands of specially trained “anti-riot” troops who confronted the protesters with tear gas, military weapons and systematic arrests.
The State Department spokesperson Ned Price was asked in his Tuesday press briefing if he had any comments or message to the Iranian people, considering that the protesters say they do not believe the Islamic Republic regime when it says the United States is Iran’s enemy.
Price said that the administration has “spoken very clearly about the ongoing protests” and “in the past spoken directly to the people of Iran”, saying “we stand with the Iranian people.” He added, “we call on the Iranian Government to respect the right of the Iranian people to peaceful protest, and not to repress what are their fundamental demands.”
The spokesperson was referring to earlier protests not the current round of demonstrations going on for a week. Also, observers pointed out that the administration has not gone beyond the level of the State Department spokesperson to voice support. President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and even Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley have been silent.
This contrasts sharply with the Trump Administration, which voiced strong support for Iranian dissidents and protesters and leads to a perception among Iranians that the administration does not want to jeopardize the nuclear talks it started over a year ago to revive the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Actions, JCPOA.
Former State Department official Len Khodorkovsky in an opinion column for Iran International Tuesday spoke about how influential media in the West rarely mentions the protests in Iran. “As President Joe Biden is negotiating the latest version of the JCPOA, many in the media who supported the original deal want him to succeed, and are reluctant to draw attention to anything, like the protests, that may sabotage those efforts.”
Andrew Ghalili, an analyst at JINSA tweeted that US statements on protests in Iran have not gone beyond the State Department spokesman, adding, “This gets more unacceptable every day…”
Another Iran watcher, Jason Brodsky with the United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI) advocacy group pointed out that the State Department’s social media posts in Persian completely ignore events in Iran and showcase topics such as the Grand Canyon and Virginia and Maryland shorelines.