President Donald Trump on Saturday expressed his administration’s support to Iranian protesters outraged over their country’s decision to shoot down a passenger jet, killing scores of Iranians on board.
Hundreds of protesters marched in Tehran after Iran’s Revolutionary Guard acknowledged it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian plane bound for Kiev earlier this week, killing 176 people, amid counter-strikes at U.S. bases in Iraq following the killing of a top Iranian general.
“To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I've stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you,” Trump tweeted in both English and Farsi. “We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also tweeted: "The voice of the Iranian people is clear. They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude, and brutality of the IRGC under @khamenei_ir's kleptocracy. We stand with the Iranian people who deserve a better future."
In a later tweet, Trump urged Iran to allow human rights groups to monitor the unrest, adding, "The world is watching."
On Sunday morning, the president revisited the topic: “To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!“
The Trump administration has repeatedly tried to capitalize on protests in Iran, using social media and other means to urge support for the demonstrations in the hopes that they will weaken the Islamist regime or even topple it.
The administration has ignored cautions from some analysts that loudly supporting the protesters could undermine their cause by giving the regime an excuse to claim the demonstrations are foreign-controlled.
So far, however, the regime has managed to outlast the occasional eruptions of popular anger. And the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani brought massive crowds of Iranians into the streets just days ago in what appeared to be a boost to the cleric-run government.
Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Guard’s aerospace force, said Saturday that his unit accepted full responsibility for the incident, according to the Associated Press.
Hajizadeh blamed the U.S. for the plane’s fate, saying Iran was on guard after Trump tweeted out last Saturday that U.S. forces could hit 52 sites in the country “very hard and very fast” if they retaliated for the killing of Soleimani.