US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday hailed as “remarkable” the mass protests in Iran as he met activists originally from the country whose clerical leadership is waging a crackdown.
Opening a meeting at the State Department, Blinken praised the “remarkable displays of courage throughout Iran as women, young people and many others continue to stand up for the fundamental rights that continue to be denied them by the Iranian regime.”
Iran has seen its biggest wave of protests in years after the September 16 death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was arrested by the notorious morality police.
“In the wake of Mahsa Amini’s death and the spontaneous demonstration of outrage that this has produced, I think we are seeing something that is quite remarkable throughout the country, led primarily by women and young people,” Blinken said.
Blinken was joined by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who has championed women’s rights, and Rob Malley, the US pointman on Iran who has led months of talks in a bid to restore a 2015 nuclear accord.
Participants in the meeting included the actress Nazanin Boniadi, writer Roya Hakakian and gender equality activist Sherry Hakimi.
Hakakian said the group urged President Joe Biden’s administration to halt the nuclear talks, which could lead to an easing of sweeping sanctions on Iran if it returns to compliance with restrictions on its nuclear program.
“Our suggestion unanimously was to stop the nuclear talks until the violence stops. And I think everybody heard us loud and clear,” she told National Public Radio after the meeting.
White House spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that while the United States still backed the nuclear deal, it was unlikely that it would be revived “anytime in the near future.”
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric, has accused the United States of whipping up the protests to destabilize the Islamic republic.
Blinken said he anticipated similar accusations that his meeting showed the protests were coming from the outside.
“If that’s the case, if they genuinely believe that, they fundamentally — fundamentally — do not understand their own people,” Blinken said of the Iranian leadership.
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