Biden’s support for Iranian protesters comes after the bitter lessons of 2009

WASHINGTON – The last time a wave of protests swept Iran, after killing a young woman standing on the sidelines of an anti-government protest in 2009, Barack Obama was hesitant to publicly support the anti-government movement. for fear that Tehran would claim sovereignty. The CIA secretly sparked unrest.

Thirteen years later, under similar circumstances, President Biden has taken a dramatically different approach. He openly sided with the protesters in his speech before the United Nations last week. Last week, the United States quickly imposed sanctions on its ethics police. And authorities have enabled the activation of satellite links and other internet services in the hope of restoring communications between the protesters, despite efforts by Iranian officials to keep them in the dark.

Now, the race is on to get communications equipment into the hands of protesters – a no-nonsense task in a country where the government is determined to shut down any point of view to which the outside world might fall. depth of persecution after death in police custody. of 22 years old Mahsa Aminiaccused of violating the law on headscarves.

On Friday, the State and Treasury departments raced to lift sanctions that prevent much of US-designed technology from flowing into the country – sanctions that are part of a broader effort to cut cut Iran off from the world until a new nuclear deal is negotiated. and the country has stopped funding terrorist groups.

The nuclear deal – which President Trump signed in 2018 – now appears to be dead. And over the weekend, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, who was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top adviser at the time of the 2009 uprising, admitted that he and others had learned. a bitter lesson in the price to be paid. be overly careful.

“Part of the reason there was a different approach in 2009 was the belief that somehow if the US spoke up, it would weaken the protesters, not support them,” he said. Meet the Press” by NBC.

“What we learned then is that you can think too much about these things, that the most important thing for the United States is to be resolute, clear, and principled in responding to the citizens of any nations that claim their rights and dignity.”

But openly supporting the protesters is one thing. Defeating Iran’s honed Internet shutdown is another matter. Within hours of the administration suspending the sanctions regulations, Elon Musk released a statement, through Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment, claiming that his Starlink satellite system was “activated in Iran” “.

That seemed like a huge accomplishment: After Russia scrapped a European satellite system used by the Ukrainian government, part of a broader effort to blind the country just before the May 24 invasion. 2, it was Starlink that helped Ukraine reconnect. Senior US intelligence officials were amazed at the speed with which the Ukrainians obtained and activated the Starlink boxes, whose tiny antennas – about 12 inches – connect to thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites .

Within days, Ukraine’s ministries were back online. Today, those boxes provide some of Ukraine’s most reliable internet services.

But in Ukraine, the government is desperate to get the boxes. They are airlifted to neighboring countries, loaded onto trains and trucks, and transported across borders.

Mr. Sadjadpour noted on Twitter that Mr. Musk and the US government “have sent more than 15,000 Starlink kits to Ukraine, but the Ukrainian government is a close ally and very cooperative. The Iranian regime wants to turn off the Internet so that it can suppress people in the dark.”

There is practically no way into Iran – and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the mullahs and the Basij, the combined forces to suppress the protests, are determined to stop them. And it is not clear that the United States or Israel will work to smuggle Starlink systems and less sophisticated “internet in the box” technologies they have devoted to a series of clandestine programs aimed at sabotaging the Internet. the country’s nuclear enrichment facility. .

But that task could soon fall into the hands of US intelligence agencies. On Monday, there were hints that the authorities were looking for ways to get Starlink, in particular, into the hands of protesters.

Officials would not say how, but they acknowledged that the administration had been in contact with Starlink and that discussions were apparently underway about how to get the powerful satellite systems into the hands of anti-government officials. government. Various options are being thrown around, with some exploring whether the system can be piloted – along with many other smuggled goods – or crashed by drones. The satellite system is illegal in Iran, although television dishes are ubiquitous.

Regardless of whether the Biden administration succeeds in helping protesters communicate and organize, American officials appear to be driven by a unified mindset: Move faster than in 2009.

On June 20 of that year, a 26-year-old philosophy student, Neda Agha-Soltan, stepped out of her car to observe the unrest in the streets following an election that had clearly been rigged. She was shot through the chest by a sniper and videos show her dead in the street. When the image goes viralThe protests accelerated.

It was the first major human rights crisis of the new Obama administration, and the incident occurred just as Mr. Obama was exchanging secret letters with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which eventually led to protests. negotiations behind the 2015 nuclear deal.

Dennis Ross, a top Iran adviser at the National Security Council at the time, said on Monday that while the ongoing negotiations were being considered, “we’ve heard from you.” from people in the green movement” – the anti-government movement – “outside of Iran we will act as government narrative that the protests are US-instigated” if Mr. contradict the protesters.

“People inside the movement, in Iran, tell us the opposite,” he said. “We should take them more seriously. A lot of us regret moving so slowly.”

Mr. Biden’s advisers, many of whom were involved in those initial discussions, seem to agree. They say they have decided not to take any punches or worry about the fate of resurrecting the nuclear deal.

Iran’s leadership seems determined to quash the protests; The country’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, seemed visibly angry when the topic was brought up during a press conference at the United Nations General Assembly last week in New York.

In an interview with The New York Times over the weekend, Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, admitted that “one of our daughters, a child of my country, has been detained in a short time and she died after three days.” He offered no theories as to how that happened and said the country must quell any violent protests.

He added: “We will not allow outside instigation and propaganda and from the media to jeopardize the stability and security as well as the safety of our people.

Alan Yuhas Reporting contributions from New York.

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