US Congress censors Iran, Trump mulls sanctions waiver

NEW YORK: US lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to back anti-government protesters in Iran on Monday, at the start of a week in which President Donald Trump will make key decisions about sanctioning Tehran over the 2015 nuclear deal.

The House of Representatives voted 415-2 in support of the biggest wave of discontent Iran has seen since 2009, which began in late December and led to more than 22 deaths and 3,700 arrests during the protests in recent days.

Ed Royce, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced his backing for a resolution that condemned the regime’s web censorship and a heavy-handed response by the Revolutionary Guards, the military force loyal to the clerical elite.

“We all face a clear choice: stand with the protesters – who demand the basic rights and opportunities enjoyed in free societies – or stand with their oppressors – who steal the wealth of a great nation to enrich themselves and to fund violence abroad,” said Royce.

“These brave men and women are standing up against the Revolutionary Guards’ violent intervention in Syria and Lebanon. We must join them in demanding an end to the single greatest source of instability in the Middle East.”

Royce also spoke of separate, draft congressional laws to target those responsible for human rights violations during the crackdown and another to “push the corrupt Revolutionary Guards out of the Iranian economy”.

The California lawmaker’s comments were echoed by others, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, also a Republican, who used Twitter to speak “in support of the Iranian people’s right to protest their brutal regime”.

On Wednesday, Royce will chair a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting to weigh whether sanctions have worked against Iran and its proxy militia Hezbollah, as well as looking at curbs on North Korea and Russia.

Trump tweeted almost daily in support of Iranian protesters during the peak of the rallies. He is gearing up to make major decisions about the international nuclear deal his predecessor, Barack Obama, struck with Iran and other countries.

Trump faces deadlines related to the deal starting late this week, including deciding on Friday whether to re-impose oil sanctions lifted under the 2015 deal, State Department spokesman Steve Goldstein said on Tuesday.

Trump was expected to meet with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the White House later in the week ahead of the decision, Goldstein told a briefing of journalists in Washington.

On Tuesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that foreign attempts to turn legitimate protests into an insurgency had failed, underscoring the clerical elite’s confidence that it had quashed unrest that spread to more than 80 cities.

“The enemy now repeatedly makes moves and they are defeated each time,” Khamenei said, according to state media. “It’s because of the resistance, because of the strong populist and national dam.”

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