Iran’s suppression of unrest sharpens confrontation with Washington

The US introduced sanctions against Iranian Information Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi.
Sunday 24/11/2019
An Iranian woman holds a smartphone shown to be unable to access internet, in Tehran, November 23. (AFP)
An Iranian woman holds a smartphone shown to be unable to access internet, in Tehran, November 23. (AFP)

ISTANBUL - Iran’s violent suppression of the unrest in the country is sharpening the confrontation between Tehran and the United States at a time when the Islamic Republic is facing added international pressure over its nuclear programme.

Following days of clashes between demonstrators and security forces that killed more than 100 people, as stated by Amnesty International, and triggered an internet blackout ordered by authorities, the United States introduced sanctions against Iranian Information Minister Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi.

Jahromi, the first government minister born after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, is believed to be considering a presidential run in 2021. In sanctioning him, the US Treasury noted he once worked for the country’s Intelligence Ministry and “has advanced the Iranian regime’s policy of repressive internet censorship.”

“Iran’s leaders know that a free and open internet exposes their illegitimacy, so they seek to censor internet access to quell anti-regime protests,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The US government, which reintroduced sanctions against Iran as part of a “maximum pressure” tactics since Washington’s withdrawal from the nuclear agreement, said it was determined to punish Iranian government officials involved in violence against demonstrators.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a leading Iran hawk in the administration, said on Twitter he had “asked the Iranian protesters to send us their videos, photos and information documenting the regime’s crackdown on protesters.” Pompeo said the United States would “expose and sanction the abuses.”

Iran’s regime will also have to answer questions about suspected nuclear activities that could deal another blow to the 2015 pact.

Experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, are expected in Iran this week after inspectors detected uranium particles at a site Iran had not declared to the agency.

While the IAEA has not identified the site in question, diplomatic sources previously said the agency asked Iran about a site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran where Israel alleged secret atomic activity in the past.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapon despite Tehran’s denials, drew attention to the site in a speech last year, calling it a “secret atomic warehouse.” Tehran said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

Sources said the IAEA took samples from the site in the spring and that Iran has been slow in providing answers to explain the test results.

Iran’s less-than-forthcoming attitude heightened doubts about the future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal struck in 2015 that was severely weakened by the US withdrawal last year.

Over the past few months, Iran has breached several parts of the accord that it signed with the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia and in which it committed to scaling back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Britain, France and Germany said they are extremely concerned by Iran’s actions in stepping up its uranium enrichment and other breaches.