“It is not a partisan issue. We demand democracy. We stand as Democrats, we stand with the president of the United States — Joe Biden is not going to let freedom be denied in Iran,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told the Organization of Iranian American Communities. “We are fighting together, we are fighting together, and we seek the freedom of all those in Iran.”
Jackson Lee’s remarks brought an audience eager for “an uprising for a democratic Iranian republic” to their feet. Biden likewise has pledged to “free Iran,” only to have his team walk back that statement as a show of solidarity with the protesters, but the persistence of the protests spurred a parade of U.S. lawmakers at the Capitol to declare the latest outcry a welcome “revolution” against the regime.
“We’re not talking about, once again, [trading one] form of autocracy for another. We’re talking about freedom. … This is the revolution,” Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX) told the attendees. “Let’s make sure that what happened with the Green Movement in 2009 is not going to happen here. Let’s keep drawing attention to it, keep making sure that people know. Let’s get the world on our side, and let’s get the thugs out of Iran.”
Iranian leaders have faced intense protests with increasing frequency in recent years, despite their success in quelling the Green Movement that arose to protest the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. The latest protests were sparked by the killing of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman who died in police custody after being detained for a headscarf infraction, and their intensity has forced Western leaders to consider the possibility that the Shia clerics who came to power in the 1979 revolution could meet the fate of their predecessors.
“It is women who launched this revolution,” French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday. “The grandchildren of the revolution are carrying out a revolution and are devouring it.”
Jackson Lee is one of dozens of lawmakers who have co-sponsored a resolution “expressing support for the Iranian people’s desire for a democratic, secular, and nonnuclear Republic of Iran,” as the Iranian American activists argue that the protesters evince a clear desire for “regime change” in Tehran.
“There should be a clear laser focus on aligning ourselves with the wishes of the people of Iran,” OIAC Political Director Majid Sadeghpour told the Washington Examiner. “That means that the United States and their policy should recognize the Iranian people’s right to self-determination and self-defense.”
The eruption of the protests has complicated U.S. efforts to rehabilitate the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, despite more than a year of diplomatic maneuvering by Biden and other Western powers that had been keen to renew the deal. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team, having long blamed Iran for failing to accept the final U.S. offer, has evinced little interest in continuing the negotiating process during the protests but also left the door open to an eventual return to the deal if Iran keeps its nuclear program within the necessary boundaries.
“Our focus is not an accord that isn’t moving forward, but what is happening in Iran … this popular movement and the brutal crackdown of the regime against protesters,” State Department special envoy Rob Malley said this week. “If Iran takes the initiative to cross new thresholds in its nuclear program, then obviously the response will be different and coordinated with our European allies.”
Sadeghpour objected to that posture. “Why are we sending mixed messages?” he said in a rhetorical question. “Why are we saying — in the middle of protests in Iran, while people are getting executed and Iran’s parliament passes legislation promoting execution of the people — why are we stating privately and publicly that we are open to negotiations with this regime?”
The OIAC is an activist group with ties to the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian opposition group that was listed as a foreign terrorist organization until then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removed the organization from the blacklist in 2012.
“We have declared, as you well know, standing with Secretary Clinton, that MEK is not a terrorist organization,” Jackson Lee said. “We did that together.”
And she implied that Congress would push Biden to do even more. “Let us stand as we go into the new session and demand, [a]s this administration has done, more sanctions added as necessary,” she said. “And that we go into the sunrise of the 118 Congress with what is on our lips — not blood but the freedom of the Iranian people. And we do not rest until the people of Iran are free.”