As protests in Iran stretch into their second week, the Biden administration is facing pressure from dissidents and regional experts to more forcefully back anti-regime demonstrators, with one Iranian activist telling the Washington Free Beacon that the administration’s stance is a "pathetic slap in the face" to pro-democracy reformers.
Cameron Khansarinia, policy director at the National Union for Democracy in Iran, a pro-human rights Iranian-American organization that supports democracy, said the Biden administration’s hesitance to actively support protesters is helping the hardline regime remain in power. He and other activists say the administration’s tepid response is driven by its desire to ink a new nuclear deal and avoid upsetting the Iranian government as talks continue. Top U.S. officials, including President Joe Biden, have notably avoided commenting on the protests, which has not gone unnoticed in the activist community.
"Iranians have now been in the streets of cities across the country for two weeks and the Biden administration is not only asleep on the job, it is harming both the people of Iran and U.S. national security interests by prolonging the life of the Islamic Republic dictatorship," Khansarinia told the Free Beacon. "It is fair to say that Joe Biden and his team not only don’t care, but view this movement for freedom and democracy to be a nuisance they wish would go away."
Iranian protesters took to the streets last month amid economic turmoil and the deadly collapse of an apartment building, which was blamed on the regime’s failure to care for its own people. Since that time, efforts by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his top associates to quell the unrest, including the use of tear gas and beating protesters, have failed.
A State Department spokesman who declined to be named said the administration opposes the government’s violent crackdown.
The spokesman told the Free Beacon that it backs "brave Iranian protesters [who] are demanding that their government address their legitimate concerns." But the Biden administration has stopped short of taking concrete action, such as increasing sanctions on the Iranian regime or walking away from negotiations over a revamped nuclear deal.
Ayatollah Mohsen Heidari AleKasir, a Khamenei ally, traveled to the site of the building collapse last week and was shouted down by a crowd of hundreds chanting anti-regime slogans. Videos posted online show Iranian security forces firing into crowds and beating protesters, though a media blackout in the country has prevented international observers from tracking the regime’s crimes. In recent days, the protests spread to Tehran, Iran’s capital city, though information about the extent of these demonstrations has been suppressed.
The State Department spokesman said the administration opposes the "government-imposed Internet shutdowns" but did not preview any steps it would take to boost this cause.
Khansarinia and others blasted the State Department’s response as lip service and said the administration’s refusal to take action speaks louder than its words.
"This pathetic statement is a slap in the face to the peaceful protesters dodging live bullets for the values that America has always stood for, but that the Biden administration clearly abhors," Khansarinia said. "After two weeks of effective silence in the face of the regime in Tehran opening live fire on peaceful protesters, the Biden administration’s latest half-hearted statement, delegated to low-ranking administration officials, is insulting, shameful, and factually incorrect."
Iranian activists want the Biden administration to make good on its promises to support human rights and democracy across the globe. This should include taking steps to help Iranian activists access the Internet, which is highly restricted by the regime, and forming a policy that could help collapse Khamenei’s government, they say.
Bryan Leib, executive director of Iranian Americans for Liberty, an activist group that seeks to increase pressure on the regime, said the Biden administration's near silence on the protests "should serve as a prime example for the American people as to this administration's priorities and allegiances abroad."
"They would rather cozy up to the world's leading sponsor of terrorism than voice their support for the Iranian people," Leib told the Free Beacon. "The brave Iranian people are risking it all, including being mowed down with bullets in the streets—which this regime did in 2019—to protest Khamenei and his regime. All Americans should be standing with the liberty-seeking Iranian people."
Alireza Nader, a veteran Iran scholar based in Washington, D.C., said the Biden administration could win over the dissident community by "maximizing pressure on the regime while maximizing support for the people—and not just by providing moral support, but by helping Iranians evade Internet censorship, providing labor and teacher strikers with funding, and helping Iranians build civil society."