The Obama administration ignored leaders of Iran’s pro-democracy Green Movement when they requested support from the United States in 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported (Google link) on Friday. According to current and past U.S. officials, the decision was influenced by President Barack Obama’s reluctance to jeopardize future nuclear talks with the Iranian regime.
The Journal, which documented how hardliners backed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have become stronger since Tehran reached a nuclear deal with world powers in July, wrote that the number of reformists in Iran has conversely diminished. “Many activists are angry at the Obama administration for failing to support them six years ago in a rebuff that hasn’t been previously reported,” it added.
According to the Journal, Iranian opposition leaders covertly reached out to the White House in 2009 to determine whether it would support the Green Movement, which saw millions of Iranians demonstrate against the allegedly fraudulent victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in that year’s presidential elections.
Current and former U.S. officials who worked with the Obama administration on Iranian issues said that the pro-democracy protests “caught the White House off guard.” While some tried to convince Obama to publicly support the uprising, calling it the “most important democratic opening since the 1979 Islamic revolution,” the president preferred to “give it a few days.” According to one senior American official, the message was, “We should monitor, but do nothing.”
In addition to maintaining silence about the Green Movement, the administration directed the CIA not to take any action that could help it.
“If you were working on the nuclear deal, you were saying, ‘Don’t do too much,’” said Michael McFaul, the current U.S. ambassador to Russia who served as a National Security Council official at the time.
Both current and past Obama administration officials said that the decision not to support the protesters was influenced by “the potential for talks with Iran.” In 2009, Obama was already “heavily invested” his outreach to Khamenei, having sent the Supreme Leader two letters prior to the controversial presidential election.
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