- The Washington Times - Monday, May 16, 2022

U.S. officials are expressing support for protesters in Iran, as demonstrations over soaring food and commodity prices have turned increasingly political over the weekend.

“Brave Iranian protesters are standing up for their rights,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement posted on Twitter on Sunday night, as reports of clashes between demonstrators and authorities continued to emerge from Tehran.

Videos posted online purported to show that protesters had burned images of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to Reuters, which said demonstrators also called for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of Iran‘s Shah, who was toppled decades ago.

Protests began in several cities last week after a major government cut in food subsidies that resulted in price hikes by as much as 300% for some flour-based staples. Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s biggest grain exporters. Russia’s invasion has stressed a number of countries with supply cuts and price hikes.

By Saturday night, posts on social media claimed the protesters in some areas had expanded their demands to call for larger reforms in Iran, where political and press freedoms are tightly controlled by the hard-line Islamist government.

The development comes as the Biden administration has continued to hold out hope for a restoration of the defunct 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that had given Iran major economic sanctions relief in exchange for limits to Tehran‘s nuclear activities that the West fears are geared to making atomic weapons. The State Department said Secretary Antony Blinken discussed the state of the negotiations with major European partners on a trip to Berlin over the weekend that focused mainly on the Ukrainian crisis.

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Then-President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal and restored sanctions on Iran in 2018 on grounds the deal had failed to halt Iranian backing of militant anti-U.S. allies in several Mideast nations or to curb Tehran‘s ballistic missile programs.

The sanctions have squeezed Iran‘s economy in a way that analysts say has created challenges for ordinary Iranians, but also added to social and political tensions in the country.

There have been unconfirmed reports in recent days claiming that at least four protesters have been killed in the latest demonstrations.

Mr. Price tweeted Sunday night that “the Iranian people have a right to hold their government accountable.

“We support their rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression online and offline — without fear of violence and reprisal,”Mr. Price said.

Iran‘s officials news outlets appear not to have reported on the recent protests, and the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran warned last week the regime in Tehran has a record of crushing popular uprisings. The Center said that the U.S. and other governments had to speak up for the demonstrators.

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“There’s no time to waste,” CHRI Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi said in a statement. “We could be heading towards another bloodbath in the Islamic Republic if the international community doesn’t forcefully warn against state violence and arbitrary arrests.”

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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