Donald Trump has said anti-regime protesters in Iran will see “great” support from the US, following days of unrest in cities across the country.
In a tweet, the US President wrote: “Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!”
Moments earlier, Mr Trump had deleted a tweet with different wording – in which he spoke of his respect for Iranians in their “fight” to take back their “corrupt and poorly run” country.
He had also wrote: “The United States will be with you at the appropriate time!”
Activists have taken to the streets of almost every province in Iran, protesting the nation’s weak economy, rises in food prices and failures in government.
In some areas, opposition on the streets has targeted the heart of the regime, with chants calling for the downfall of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
At least 21 people have died and hundreds have been arrested following a week of protests in the Middle East nation, which are the largest since demonstrations over a disputed election in 2009. They have been condemned by the regime and met with threats of the death penalty.
They were followed on Wednesday by pro-government rallies in several cities, with thousands chanting on the streets in support of the regime and against the US.
French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that the tone of speeches from the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia regarding Iran is “nearly one that would lead us to war” – and he stressed it is very important to maintain dialogue with the country.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has called for further violence to be avoided.
Prior to Mr Trump’s tweets, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said America would “amplify the voices of the Iranian people” and described the protests as the “completely spontaneous” act of a “long-oppressed people rising up against their dictators”.
At a news conference she read a list of chants which she said were from Iranian protesters, including slogans like “we will die but we will take Iran back”.
Trita Parsi, author of Losing an Enemy – Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy, told Sky News that Mr Trump’s messages of support were likely “insulting” to Iranian protesters given his record of action against the country, which includes crippling economic sanctions, a travel ban, and a refusal to certify a nuclear deal which had eased economic pressure on Iran.
“Protests began precisely because economic and political frustrations are very high, and grew to target the whole regime,” Mr Parsi said.
“Everyone know no one listens to Trump. If you had a more credible President in the USA and some evidence that people were taking cues from the USA things might be different. But people know the frustrations and discontent of the people are very real. This makes it much harder to blame outsiders.”
Some leaders in Iran and other states have been keen to place the blame for the protest on outside influences, which are often understood to imply the United States and Western allies.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, making his first public statement on the violence, claimed “enemies of Iran” had stirred up unrest using “cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create trouble for the Islamic Republic”.
Wednesday also saw the arrest of a European citizen, who was detained in the west of the country under accusations of foreign meddling, but whose nationality has not been specified.
Hamidreza Abolhassani, the head of the region’s justice department, told a local news agency the person had “been trained by European intelligence services and was leading the rioters”.
Claims of foreign intervention have been frequently used to justify the detention of foreign citizens in Iran, including the high-profile imprisonment of British woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
The unrest has seen Tehran shut down messaging app Telegram and photo-sharing platform Instagram, which join Facebook and Twitter in being banned in the country.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has said the regime must allow “space for legal criticism” – but that “criticism is different to violence and destroying public property”.
Mr Trump’s comments follow an announcement by US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who said the US would “amplify the voices of the Iranian people” and said the protests were the “completely spontaneous” act of a “long-oppressed people rising up against their dictators”.