The Trump administration is keeping a close eye on the growing protests in Iran, with senior administration officials working to ensure President Donald Trump does not miss an opportunity to incubate a possible revolution that could topple Iran's hardline ruling regime, according to White House officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.
With the world watching growing demonstrations across Iran, the Trump administration sees an opportunity to feed the growing protests. The policy is starkly different than the Obama administration's approach in 2009, when similar protests gripped Iran and were met with silence.
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Many viewed the Obama administration's hesitation to back the protests as part of the reason they fizzled out amid a violent crackdown by the Iranian regime, which has engaged in similar tactics as anti-regime activists take to the streets across the Islamic Republic.
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are said to be closely monitoring the situation and working to warn Iran's ruling regime that "this will not be a repeat of the 2009 demonstrations," according to a senior administration official briefed on the situation.
As the death toll in the current protests reaches at least 21 individuals, Iranian officials have blamed the unrest on "overt support of the U.S., the Zionist regime [Israel], and Saudi Arabia."
The protests, which began last week, have mostly centered on economic frustrations among Iranian citizens who feel the ruling regime has failed to invest in the country. While Iran has spent billions of the cash windfalls it received from the landmark nuclear deal on a massive military buildup, it seems little of that money has been reinvested in the Iranian economy, which remains in shambles following years of economic sanctions by the West.
The Trump administration is not seeking to repeat what it described as the Obama administration's failure to support demonstrators who could eventually topple the clerical ruling regime of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
"While Obama administration officials continue to double down on its failed, passive approach to past freedom uprisings in Iran, President Trump and Vice President Pence are making clear to the world that they will not turn their backs on the freedom-seeking protesters," one senior administration official told the Free Beacon on Tuesday, after reports claimed another nine protesters were killed and at least 450 arrested.
"The Trump administration's strong and vocal support for the demonstrators is a 180 from the Obama administration's approach and it's signaling to Tehran that this will not be a repeat of the 2009 demonstrations," the administration official said.
Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, have criticized Trump and Pence for using social media to support the protesters.
"Overt and covert support of the U.S., the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia for the rioters and vandals helped the Iranian people differentiate between the peaceful protesters and the foreign-stimulated rioters," General Ramezan Sharif, spokesman for Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, said in a statement carried by the country's state-controlled press.
Pence has been particularly vocal about ensuring the White House takes steps to help incubate protests that could lead to revolution.
"As long as [Trump] is [President] and I am [Vice President], the United States of America will not repeat the shameful mistake of our past when others stood by and ignored the heroic resistance of the Iranian people as they fought against their brutal regime," Pence tweeted on Monday.
As a lawmaker in Congress, Pence spearheaded efforts to protect free speech in Iran.
As the Obama administration stood on the sidelines of the tumult in 2009, Pence, then a House lawmaker, co-sponsored a measure to back "all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law."
The resolution condemned the Iranian regime's violent suppression of the protests.
At the time, Pence disagreed "with the administration's decision to essentially draw the line at not meddling and not interfering."
Another source close to the Trump White House told the Free Beacon that public criticism from Obama administration officials has only fueled the drive to back Iranian protesters.
"If you want to understand how totally different the Trump approach is from Obama's, all you have to notice is that Democrats aren't even pretending Obama would have done this," said the source, a veteran D.C.-based foreign policy adviser who is close to the White House.
"Usually when the president shows leadership, the noise machine spins up and says he's just doing what Obama would have done," the source said. "But in this case everyone knows that Obama abandoned the protesters in Iran in 2009 because he wanted a nuclear deal, and he would do it again."