WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers offered implicit support on Sunday to tens of thousands of Iranians protesting the Islamic Republic’s unelected clerical elite and Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East.
“Big protests in Iran,” Trump said in a tweet from his private club in Palm Beach, Florida. “The people are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism.
“Looks like they will not take it any longer. The USA is watching very closely for human rights violations!”
Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement: “The Iranian government is being tested by its own citizens. We pray that freedom and human rights will carry the day.”
The protests, which initially focused on economic hardships but now include anti-government messages, appeared to resume for a fourth day on Sunday despite Tehran’s warnings of a crackdown and restrictions on messaging apps used by the demonstrators.
The protests are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Trump’s endorsement of some of the protesters’ aims differs from how his predecessor, Barack Obama, initially reacted to the widespread “Green Movement” demonstrations that rocked Iran in 2009.
Obama at first muted his response, fearing that support from Washington could backfire and allow the Iranian government to paint the protesters as tools of the United States.
Some Iranian officials already are blaming “foreign agents” for the latest unrest.
Trump has taken a more hawkish line with Tehran than Obama. In October, he refused to certify that Iran was complying with its 2015 nuclear deal, even though international weapons inspectors said it was.
He also has pledged to work with Gulf Arab states and Israel to curb what they say are Iran’s attempts to extend its influence in the region.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said Trump should give a nationwide address, laying out the terms of an improved nuclear agreement with Iran.
“President Trump is tweeting — very sympathetically to the Iranian people,” Graham said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” program. “But you just can’t tweet here. You have to lay out a plan.”
On the same program, Republic Rep. Will Hurd of Texas said the United States should support peaceful protests in Iran.
If Iran cracks down, he said, “that’s where we should be talking about sanctions because these are human rights abuses.”