US seeking to amplify voices of protest in Iran amid turmoil

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is trying to amplify voices of dissent in Iran by suggesting that the Islamic Republic is under internal threat after denying and then admitting it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane last week.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper says street protests in Tehran show that the Iranian people are hungry for a more accountable government.

“You can see the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government — a different regime,” Esper says. He appears on two Sunday news shows while US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, is interviewed on three others — pressing the White House’s campaign to bring “maximum pressure” on Tehran to change its behavior.

O’Brien suggests the United States sees this moment as an opportunity to further intensify pressure on Iran’s leaders, with whom the US has been at odds for four decades. Iran’s leaders already are under enormous strain from economic sanctions that have virtually strangled Iran’s main source of income — oil exports.

After the US killed Iran’s most powerful general in an airstrike in Baghdad on January 3, it appeared the backlash in Iran and elsewhere had helped Tehran by shifting the focus away from its internal problems. The strike also seemed to divert attention away from domestic unrest in Iraq over government corruption, and it intensified efforts by Iraqi politicians to expel American and other foreign forces.

But the shootdown of the Ukrainian plane opened a new avenue of pressure for the Trump administration. “I think the regime is having a very bad week,” O’Brien says. “This was a regime that’s reeling from maximum pressure, they’re reeling from their incompetence in this situation and the people of Iran are just fed up with it,” he says, adding that regime change is not US policy.

— AP

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