President Joe Biden recently appeared to break from America’s stance not to call for regime change in Iran when he said, “We’re going to free Iran.”
His remarks to an audience in Los Angeles last Thursday were soon qualified by John Kirby, the National Security Council strategic communications coordinator, who noted that Biden was “expressing, again, our solidarity” with Iranian protesters and not outlining a new approach.
Since protests began in Iran immediately following the Sept. 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the country’s morality police on Sept. 13 for not wearing a hijab, more than 300 deaths have been reported.
A new report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) has called on Biden to go further in strengthening his support for the Iranian people.
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“President Biden’s apparent endorsement of regime change in Iran is welcome. But he can go further to support the Iranian people,” wrote Tzvi Kahn, a research fellow at FDD.
Kahn believes that U.S. reticence to call for regime change lies in the Biden administration’s hopes of reviving Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with the country.
“America and its allies have issued increasingly robust statements criticizing Iran’s human rights abuses while downplaying their previous emphasis on reviving the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” he wrote. Re-entry into the deal would mean billions of dollars in sanctions relief for Iran.
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The White House has gradually shown support for protesters. Two weeks into the demonstrations it finally released a statement in early October: “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 State Department was faster to condemn the regime in Iran as Secretary of State Antony Blinken released a statement on Sept. 22 to announce sanctions on top Iranian officials and express support for the protesters.
Lisa Daftari, editor-in-chief of the Foreign Desk, is hopeful that Biden’s most recent comments are indicative of a shift to come in Washington.
“Thanks to nearly two months of courageous tenacity on the part of Iranian protesters against the brutal regime in Iran, the Biden administration is beginning to show that it understands the gravity of this movement,” Daftari told Fox News Digital on Tuesday.
Daftari, who has covered the protests since the outset, continued, “Whether emotionally, through the compelling and heart-wrenching videos and footage of the protests on the streets, or through significant political pressure put on the White House and lawmakers to step away from the JCPOA and to support the people of Iran instead of appeasing the mullahs, it seems there has been somewhat of a pivot in Washington, D.C.”
On Oct. 26, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced a new round of sanctions “on Iranian officials overseeing organizations involved in violent crackdowns and killings, including of children, as part of our commitment to hold all levels of the Iranian government accountable for its repression.”
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“The White House should explicitly revoke its offer of sanctions relief to Iran,” said Kahn. “Washington must not provide an economic lifeline to a regime that continues to massacre its own people.”
At an event hosted by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Oct. 13, the U.S. special envoy to Iran, Robert Malley, insisted that the potential for re-entering the JCPOA was not influencing the U.S.’s support for protesters.
“I think people have to understand that they were not tying our hands because of … this hope that someday maybe there’ll be a deal. … We are taking action. We’re not waiting. We’re taking the action that we think is consistent and necessary to promote our values and our national security interests.”
Malley faced backlash for a tweet he sent in October that said the protesters were demonstrating “for their government to respect their dignity and human rights.” Activists pointed out that the demonstrations were in fact about regime change and not a call to action for the current regime in Iran. Malley acknowledged that his tweet was misguided, telling the news outlet, Iran International, that his post had been “poorly worded.”
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Kahn noted that the White House has not been clear enough on whether negotiations regarding the JCPOA would resume should protests fade.
“To eliminate such ambiguity, President Biden should reject further talks and adopt a policy of maximum pressure on Iran,” he said.
Following Biden’s remarks last week, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi reacted by saying, “A few hours ago, I was informed that the president of America absent-mindedly [said], ‘We will soon free Iran.’ We were freed 43 years ago,” Raisi said in a televised address on Friday. “America is aiming to destroy our national unity and coherence.”