WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With solidarity tweets in Farsi and technological tools to circumvent internet closures, US President Donald Trump could be close to exhausting his options to support Iranian protesters who stand up against their rulers .
FILE PHOTO – President of the United States, Donald Trump, arrives for a campaign rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. UU., January 14, 2020. REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque
The US authorities say the administration must avoid any openings that could generate accusations of foreign interference, such as direct financing, and increase the chances of violent repression against the people it wants to support.
The day after protests broke out in Tehran and other cities after Iran’s admission on Saturday after days of denials that it shot down a Ukrainian plane, killing all 176 people on board, Trump sent a tweet in Farsi aimed at Iran leaders: “DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS.” He was retweeted almost 80,000 times.
US officials said the intention of Trump’s tweet and other voices of support within the administration was to reinforce the message that Washington is in solidarity with the Iranian people, while helping to shed light on the motivation of the protesters and that the government from Tehran know “they are paying attention”.
Protesters found a fierce police response in several places during four days of protests. In November, an offensive against protests caused by rising fuel prices killed hundreds of people.
The Ukraine International Airlines flight from Tehran to Kiev was shot down by Iranian air defenses when the armed forces were on high alert for US reprisals, hours after Iran launched missiles against US targets in Iraq in retaliation for a drone attack Americans who killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani on January 3. Most of those on board were Iranians or dual citizens.
“We are not looking for a regime change or a total war,” said a US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We’re just telling him (that) he can’t have a nuclear weapon and not shoot the protesters.”
The United States has worked with technology companies to help create tools for the Iranian people to avoid Tehran’s restrictions on the Internet, said Brian Hook, the United States special representative for Iran. During the November protests, tens of thousands of people used those tools to communicate, he added.
“We will continue to look for technological tools to help the Iranian people avoid the censorship of the regime and the closure of the Internet,” Hook told Reuters when asked what tangible efforts Washington could offer to help protesters.
Some see hypocrisy in Trump’s show of concern.
While the administration emphasizes that it supports the Iranian people, the strong US sanctions imposed by Trump accelerated the deterioration of the economy and worsened economic conditions for ordinary Iranians, experts say.
“His words have almost no credibility with an Iranian public who saw him impose more sanctions now,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior member of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“So, if you ask me if Trump has a public relations strategy when it comes to supporting these protests, the answer is no. It all depends on your mood, your political needs and your desire to separate from your predecessor. ”
While the United States says its sanctions are focused on the laser to harm Iran’s leaders, many foreign banks and companies are deterred from doing business with the Islamic Republic, even for the supply of food and medicine, which are exempt from sanctions
Democrats say there are more things the White House can do to send a message to the Iranian people, such as lifting the ban on Iranian travel to the United States. Iran was included in a travel ban that Trump launched at the beginning of his presidency with the goal of stopping the export of what Washington calls state-sponsored terrorism.
There has still been no indication that Trump is considering doing so.
While some analysts believe that the United States would not feel totally uncomfortable with a regime change, Washington has reason to distrust overdoing it too much. The last example of foreign diplomats who landed in hot waters in Iran came last week, when Britain’s ambassador to Tehran was briefly arrested, accused of attending a protest.
“We leave the future of Iran to the Iranian people. It will not be decided by the United States government and that has been our policy for almost three years, “said Hook.
When asked if Trump would publish more about the protesters, Hook said: “I wouldn’t be surprised. I think he can expect the president to continue communicating directly with the Iranian people. ”
Reports of Steve Holland and Humeyra Pamuk; Edition by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney