Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces
People attend a protest to support the demonstrations in Iran against the rise in gasoline prices outside the Embassy of Iran in Helsinki, Finland, on Nov. 21, 2019,(Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS)
Updated 22 November 2019

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces

Trump, Pence back Iran protests as IAEA seeks answers on uranium traces
  • Nuclear watchdog’s top inspector’s visit set
  • Internet only restored in 10% of the country

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday expressed support for anti-government protesters in Iran. 

Trump said Iran is so “unstable” that the government has shut down the Internet so Iranians cannot disclose what he says is the “tremendous violence” occurring in the country.

Trump tweeted Thursday that the Iranian government wants “ZERO transparency” and believes that by shutting down the Internet the rest of the world will not find out about the “death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing!”

Pence, also in a tweet, he said: “As Iranians take to the streets … the Ayatollahs in Tehran continue to use violence and imprisonment to oppress their people. The United States’ message is clear: The American people stand with the people of Iran.”

More than 100 protesters have been killed by security forces, according to Amnesty International. The EU, France, Germany and human-rights organizations have condemned the use of lethal force against the protesters.

The unrest erupted on Nov. 15 after the government announced gasoline price hikes of at least 50 percent. Protests began in several provincial areas before spreading to about 100 cities and towns across the country. They soon turned political, with protesters demanding top officials step down.

On Thursday, the regime began restoring Internet access in Tehran and a number of provinces, following a nationwide shutdown designed to stifle the unrest.

The blockage made it difficult for protesters to post videos on social media to generate support, and to obtain reliable reports on the extent of the unrest.

Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said the restoration of connectivity in Iran was only partial, covering about 10 percent of the country.

Meanwhile, the UN nuclear watchdog’s top inspector will travel to Tehran next week to demand an explanation of the origin of uranium traces found at an undeclared site, the agency’s acting chief said on Thursday.

It was first reported in September that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found uranium traces at the site. Tehran said the site is a carpet-cleaning facility.

Two weeks ago, the IAEA confirmed that environmental samples taken at an unspecified site had shown traces of uranium that was processed but not enriched.

“We have continued our interactions with Iran since then, but have not received any additional information and the matter remains unresolved,” acting IAEA Director General Cornel Feruta told a quarterly meeting of his agency’s 35-nation board of governors in Vienna.

Feruta told Iran in September that “time is of the essence” in clearing up the origin of the traces. 

The IAEA has not been convinced by Tehran’s explanations.

“A meeting between the agency and Iran is scheduled next week in Tehran to discuss it further,” Feruta said. “It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly.”