Saturday, January 20, 2018

Trump Reiterates Support for Iranian Protesters, but Also Criticizes Obama

January 3, 2018 by  
Filed under Romance, Lust & Passion

The State Department on Tuesday urged Iran not to restrict access to social media services like Instagram and messaging platforms like Telegram, which the protesters are using to spread word about antigovernment gatherings. It encouraged Iranians to use virtual private networks to sidestep the government’s efforts to block them.

Mr. Trump himself sought to link the grievances of the Iranian demonstrators to his predecessor’s policies, saying that the corruption of Iran’s leadership has been fueled by the benefits of the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

“The people of Iran are finally acting against the brutal and corrupt Iranian regime,” he said in an early-morning tweet. “All of the money that President Obama so foolishly gave them went into terrorism and into their ‘pockets,’” he added, apparently referring to the Iranian funds that were freed up when Iran agreed to constraints on its nuclear program.

Photo

Sympathizers in Rome held a rally outside the Iranian Embassy on Tuesday.

Credit
Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press

But Mr. Trump’s invocation of Mr. Obama and the nuclear deal muddies his message, analysts said, by turning the spotlight away from the Iranian government’s economic failures — which have given rise to this powerful if inchoate protest movement — to the lingering debate in Washington over the nuclear agreement.

Mr. Trump never fully resolved that debate himself. In October, he refused to certify the deal, but he left it to Congress to legislate changes to it. Lawmakers have made little progress and European leaders have refused to revisit it. Between Jan. 11 and 17, Mr. Trump faces new deadlines on whether to recertify the deal and to continue to waive sanctions.

“He was going to be put on the spot, anyway, explaining why he was keeping the deal alive without these improvements,” said Philip H. Gordon, a senior National Security Council official in the Obama administration. “If the Iranians are killing people in the streets when it comes time for Trump to extend the sanctions waivers, it is hard to see him doing it.”

Yet killing the deal, Mr. Gordon said, could enable the Iranian government to galvanize domestic support against the United States rather than face questions about why it has not been able to improve Iran’s economy. “Right now, they cannot blame us or the international sanctions,” he said. “This could allow them to make the U.S. the enemy.”

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Even critics of the deal said they worried that the protests would tempt Mr. Trump to abandon it rather than try to improve it.

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“If there is a bipartisan bill that is ready for congressional action, that would go a long way toward persuading the president to issue the waivers,” said Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “If there’s not, what’s happening in Iran will give the president all the more reason to say, ‘I’ve had it with this deal.’”

On Capitol Hill, however, many lawmakers expect Mr. Trump will reluctantly agree to waive sanctions, leaving the deal in place. In theory, that would allow the Senate additional time to try to meet Mr. Trump’s request that the legislature make alterations to the agreement.

Still, it remained unclear on Tuesday whether Republicans and Democrats would be able to agree on a path to do so, with Democrats convinced that the kind of changes Mr. Trump has asked for would prompt either Iran or America’s European allies to withdraw.

Video

What’s Behind Iran’s Protests?

Widespread protests continue in Iran. It’s the largest unrest since the 2009 demonstrations against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then the president. But this time it’s different. Here’s why.


By NILO TABRIZY and CHRIS CIRILLO on Publish Date January 2, 2018.


Photo by Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

Watch in Times Video »

Despite their fears about the fate of the deal, some Obama officials endorsed Mr. Trump’s vocal support for the protesters, favorably comparing it to Mr. Obama’s muted response when thousands of Iranians took to the streets in June 2009 after a rigged presidential election. Mr. Obama withheld criticism, in part, because dissidents warned them that Tehran would use that endorsement to discredit the movement.

With hindsight, some say, that was a mistake because the protesters deserved the United States’ public backing, and the Iranian government would have labeled them foreign stooges either way. Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, has described it as one of her greatest regrets from that period.

“For a lot of us who were in the administration, there is some regret,” said Daniel B. Shapiro, a former senior National Security Council official and ambassador to Israel. “At that moment, it would have been desirable to be more outspoken on behalf of the rights of the Iranian people.”

“It’s inspiring to see Iranian citizens going into the streets to protest a brutal and corrupt regime,” Mr. Shapiro said of the current uprising, though he cautioned that “there’s a lot we don’t know,” given the lack of leadership and traditional roots of these protests.

Mr. Shapiro, now a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, said the United States should impose targeted sanctions on Iranian officials who order a violent crackdown on the protests. He said the administration should also redouble its efforts to push back on Iran’s military adventurism in the region.

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Military commanders and Pentagon officials say they are drafting plans to counter what they call Iran’s “destabilizing” activities, like supporting Hezbollah and other militant proxy groups, supplying missile technology to Houthi rebels in Yemen, and carrying out cyberoperations.

“We’re not trying to go to war with Iran, but we are trying to hold them accountable for some of the things they’re doing, and we’re trying to roll some of that back,” Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the head of the Pentagon’s Central Command, said in a recent interview in Bahrain.

There is another, less likely, course that Mr. Trump could take to show solidarity with the Iranian people, analysts said: lift the travel ban on people from Iran who seek to visit the United States.

“Iranians took the travel ban very personally because they were the largest group most directly affected,” said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert who is the deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.

Nicholas Fandos and Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Washington, and Eric Schmitt from Manama, Bahrain.


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