WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- The Trump administration on Sunday tried to stoke up and amplify riots in Iran by suggesting that the Islamic Republic is under internal threat following the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner.
Pentagon chief Mark Esper tried to take advantage of riots near a central square in Tehran, saying the unrest which included some elements tearing up posters of General Qassem Soleimani showed "the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government — a different regime”.
He appeared on two Sunday news shows while President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, was interviewed on three others — pressing the White House’s campaign to bring "maximum pressure” on Tehran.
O’Brien suggested the United States sees the riots as an opportunity to further intensify pressure on Iran which is already are under enormous strain from economic sanctions.
The provocative tearing of Gen. Soleimani’s pictures came shortly after tens of millions of Iranians took to the streets across the country to vent their anger at the U.S. for assassinating the Middle East’s most prominent anti-terror commander.
President Donald Trump, who had remained uncharacteristically mum all through a week of massive rallies held to honor Gen. Soleimani, pounced on the riot by a few hundred people in downtown Tehran to tweet both in Farsi and English that his "administration will continue to stand with” the protesters.
"To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with
you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage,” he wrote.
His remarks came less than a week after he threatened to hit "very important” targets, some important to the Iranian culture. Trump has already described Iran as "a terrorist nation” and imposed the most draconian sanctions ever on the country which has mostly harmed ordinary Iranians.
On Friday, the United States announced new sanctions targeting Iran’s construction, manufacturing, textiles, mining, aluminum, copper, iron and steel industries.
"The U.S. regime’s measure is meant to disrupt the businesses of a large number of Iranian people and deprive them of access to their fundamental economic rights under international conventions,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.
The suspicious riots in Tehran broke out after Iranian officials admitted unintentionally shooting down a Ukrainian Boeing 737. Iranian officials have been effusive in offering apologies to the nation, saying the plane was brought down due to human error "at a time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism.”
Even Esper has said Iran deserves credit for taking responsibility for the shootdown. "My hunch is it was an accident,” he said Saturday.
Iran downed the flight as it braced for possible attacks by the U.S. after firing ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing U.S. forces. The ballistic missile attack was a response to the U.S. assassination of Gen. Soleimani, who is hugely admired by Iranians for his selfless patriotism and devotion to the country.
The insults against Gen. Soleimani have surprised many Iranians and given rise to suspicions that the riots are likely being orchestrated from outside Iran.
Many believe the downing of the jet is being used as a pretext to overshadow the epochal display of unity across Iran during Gen. Soleimani’s funeral and the country’s unprecedented blow to the American prestige through precision-guided missile at on U.S. bases.