US stops short of calling for Iran regime change as death toll rises

TRUMP IRAN FLAGThe White House is expressing support for protesters demonstrating against the Iranian government, but is stopping short of calling for regime change.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday called the protests an “organic popular uprising organized by brave Iranian citizens.” She says the international community “cannot sit silent” as those demonstrating are met with violence.

Sanders says: “The United States supports the Iranian people and we call on the regime to respect its citizens’ basic right to peacefully express their desire for change.”

Asked whether the ultimate goal is for Iran’s Islamist government to be replaced, Sanders said the U.S. hopes Iran begins to respect the rights of its people and ends its support for terrorist groups.

More sanctions

The Trump administration is raising the possibility it could impose more sanctions on Iran to punish it for cracking down on protesters.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says sanctions are one tool the U.S. has to respond to Iran’s behavior. She says the U.S. is “watching reports very closely of any potential human rights abuses.” She’s alluding to existing sanctions authorities that allow the U.S. to target Iran for human rights violations.

Nauert says the U.S. is expressing support for the Iranian people and for their right to free expression. She calls the protesters “brave” and “courageous.”

Iranians have taken to the streets in recent days in a number of cities to protest the government’s handling of the economy. The demonstrations are the largest seen in Iran since those that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election.

Accusations

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says an exiled opposition group is inciting violence in Iran, where anti-government protests have been held in a number of cities in recent days.

In a phone call with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, Rouhani called on France to stop hosting the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq group, known as the MEK. Several of the group’s leaders are based in Paris.

The MEK fled after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and later found refuge in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Heavily armed by Saddam, MEK forces launched cross-border raids into Iran during its war with Iraq, further alienating the group from many Iranians. The MEK says it renounced violence in 2001.

The US State Department considered the MEK a terrorist group until 2012, when it lifted the designation.

Earlier today the United States called for the U.N. Security Council and Human Rights Council to hold emergency meetings on Iran as it is roiled by protests.

American U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday that “the U.N. must speak” on the issue. She says the U.S. will be calling for emergency sessions in the coming days.

At least 9  more people were killed and some 100 were arrested overnight as unrest across Iran entered a sixth day, Iranian media said. The country’s supreme leader accused “enemies of Iran” of orchestrating the demonstrations, but analysts believe the root cause lies within Iran itself. “What we are seeing now is the result of a sort of distrust between the state and the people,”
At least 9 more people were killed and some 100 were arrested overnight as unrest across Iran entered a sixth day, Iranian media said. The country’s supreme leader accused “enemies of Iran” of orchestrating the demonstrations, but analysts believe the root cause lies within Iran itself. “What we are seeing now is the result of a sort of distrust between the state and the people,”

Haley says that “nowhere is the urgency of peace, security and freedom being tested more than in Iran,” and that U.S. officials “applaud the tremendous courage of the Iranian people.”

The demonstrations were sparked by economic grievances, but some protesters have chanted against the government and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

More than 20 people have been killed, and hundreds have been arrested.

Washington Post /AP

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