President Trump seized upon the anti-government protests in Iran, tweeting Sunday that Iranians are tired of their money being “squandered on terrorism” and that the U.S. is “watching very closely” for human rights violations.
Trump’s tweet was the fourth this weekend on the protests that began midweek and have escalated with two reported deaths late Saturday evening.
“Big protests in Iran,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “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!”
The deaths were the first of the demonstrations.
“On Saturday evening, there was an illegal protest in Dorud and a number of people took to the streets responding to calls from hostile groups, leading to clashes,” said Habibollah Khojastehpour, the deputy governor of the western Lorestan province, according to Sky News. “Unfortunately in these clashes two citizens from Dorud were killed.”
He told state television that no shots were fired by the police and security forces and that “foreign agents” and “enemies of the revolutions” were to blame.
Trump, since at least the start of his 2016 presidential campaign, has been critical of Iran and its leaders, arguing the regime has sponsored terror networks across the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.
He also argues the regime has not fully complied with a 2015 international deal in which they agreed to curtail their pursuit of a nuclear weapon in exchange of the lifting of billions in crippling economic sanctions. The president, as a result, has refused the recertify what his considers an ill-advised deal, brokered by the previous Obama administration.
On Saturday Trump tweeted: “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. The world is watching!” Trump said in two tweets. “The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change, and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most….”
The protests are largely sparked by Iranians’ frustration over rising food costs and a continued high unemployment and are occurring amid a large pro-government rallies this weekend that were planned in advance.
The president’s increasingly forceful comments also come amid growing support in Washington for the anti-government movement.
“The oppressive Iranian regime is of course trying to suppress the fact that protests against their tyrannical reign are popping up across Iran,” Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Saturday. “The Ayatollahs are out of touch with their citizens and are exporting terror abroad. We should support a free and peaceful Iran. We should support the people of Iran who have had enough.”
Earlier Saturday, Iran dismissed Trump’s public support Friday for protests in capital city Tehran and elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf country.
“Iranian people give no credit to the deceitful and opportunist remarks of U.S. officials or Mr. Trump,” said Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi, according to a state television report.
The protests began midweek in Mashhad, Iran’s second-largest city and a holy site for Shiite pilgrims. And they continued this weekend with hundreds of students and others protesting at Tehran University. Officials say roughly 50 protesters have so far been arrested.
“Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption & its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests,” Trump tweeted late Friday.
Iran is run by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and elected President Hassan Rouhani.
Social media videos show clashes between protesters and police. The semi-official Fars news agency said protests earlier this week also struck Qom, a city that is the world’s foremost center for Shiite Islamic scholarship and home to a major Shiite shrine.
The demonstrations appear to be the largest to strike the Islamic Republic since the 2009 Green Movement, after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected president. However, information about the most recent protests remain scarce because neither state-run nor semi-official media in Iran have widely reported on them.
Iran’s economy has improved since the nuclear deal. But that improvement has not reached the average Iranian. Official inflation has crept up to 10 percent again. And the price of eggs and poultry has recently increased by as much as 40 percent, though the government appears to blame to spike on fear of food contamination by avian flu.
While police have arrested some protesters, the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard and its affiliates have not intervened as they have in other unauthorized demonstrations since the 2009 election.
The State Department late Friday also offered support to the protesters.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments in June to Congress saying American is working toward “support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government” has been used by Iran’s government of a sign of foreign interference in its internal politics.
The State Department issued a statement Friday supporting the protests, referencing Tillerson’s earlier comments.
“Iran’s leaders have turned a wealthy country with a rich history and culture into an economically depleted rogue state whose chief exports are violence, bloodshed and chaos,” the statement said.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the comments.
“The noble Iranian nation never pays heed to the opportunist and hypocritical mottos chanted by the U.S. officials and their interfering allegations on domestic developments in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the state-run IRNA news agency quoted ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.