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New US stance on Iranian protests: stress human rights violations

Instead of expressing support for participants in Iranian protests, which the regime could use against them, the Obama administration is focusing on Iran’s human rights violations.

By Staff writer / December 23, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is introduced prior to speaking about human rights at Georgetown University on Dec. 14.

Gerald Herbert/AP

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Washington

The Obama administration has settled on a policy of speaking out modestly but regularly against human rights violations in Iran, even as it continues to focus on Tehran’s nuclear program and the fading hopes of a dialogue with the Iranian regime.

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The administration endured months of criticism over its decision not to offer strong and sustained public support to the opposition movement that blossomed after Iran’s contested presidential election in June. Now, it’s adjusting its approach. Instead of expressing support for Iranian dissidents – support that the regime could try to turn around as a weapon against the protesters – the administration is focusing on Iran’s violations of human rights.

The new approach debuted in a number of recent speeches by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as in statements from their spokesmen on recent events in Iran.

“The administration was being very careful not to do anything that could be used against the forces of opposition in Iran. But in striking the balance they settled on, they may have erred on the side of caution,” says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a grass-roots Iranian-American organization in Washington. “In the last couple of weeks, there’s been an effort to rectify that,” he adds, “and they’re doing it by shifting the focus to human rights violations in Iran.”

On Sunday, the White House acknowledged the death in Iran of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri by declaring, “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who seek to exercise the universal rights and freedoms that he so consistently advocated.” Mr. Montazeri had emerged in recent months as a voice for Iranian dissidence, commonly referred to as the Green Movement, and as an advocate for dialogue with the United States.

As some Iranians have gathered to commemorate Montazeri this week, security forces have cracked down.

The White House statement on Montazeri followed a speech last week on human rights by Secretary Clinton at Georgetown University in Washington. She referred to American support for the universal rights for which the Iranian people are now striving.

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