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Instead of Silence or Talking Down Regime, U.S. Should Support Iran Protesters

Washington, D.C.– The recent protests, and violent crackdown, engulfing Iran have provoked two different responses in Washington: counsels for silence and denunciation of the regime. Neither approach furthers the aspirations of the Iranian people or the interests of the United States, according to Blaise Misztal, national security director at the Bipartisan Policy Center. Instead, he argues, the United States should focus on amplifying the demands and grievances of the protesters.

“An approach that focuses not on regime change but regime pressure in the short-term, with a long-term investment in Iran’s democratic opposition, would show the United States standing with the protesters, but also impose costs on the regime for its foreign adventurism and support of terrorism, as well as open up some political space in Iranian society that could be expanded over time,” Misztal said.

“U.S. policy should be guided by the twin cautionary tales of early 2011: relative silence on Syria and regime change in Egypt. The first acceded to ruthless repression that, out of desperation, spawned violence, conflict, and radicalism. The latter begat a tumultuous change of power that saw the rise, and fall, of the Muslim Brotherhood and resurgence of dictatorship. Neither of these outcomes in Iran would benefit Iranians looking for a better life or advance the overriding U.S. strategic interest in the sustainable stability of the Middle East,” Misztal said.

“Policymakers in Washington should, therefore, speak out. But rather than chastise the regime directly, they should seek to empower the protesters, underscore the universality and legitimacy of their demands, arm them with information to better make their case against the regime, and affirm their right to air their grievances peacefully and freely,” Misztal said.

“Better yet, the United States should put its money where its mouth is and appropriate resources that would support pro-democracy opposition in Iran. Priorities should include funding for unfettered access to the internet and communications channels, broadcasting in Persian, and civil society organizations inside Iran,” Misztal said.

Blaise Misztal is available for comment.