WASHINGTON, (AFP) — The United States pivoted from delight at Egypt’s revolt to hiking political pressure on arch-foe Iran Friday, charging that the leadership in Tehran was “scared of the will of its people.”
The White House said that Iranian leaders should give their people the same chance to express their will as Egyptians seized for themselves — and noted that instead, Tehran had threatened to kill any protesters.
Iran’s government was “quite frankly scared of the will of its people,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, hinting that protests that had erupted in Egypt could spread to Iran.
“We know that what they really are scared of is exactly what might happen,” Gibbs said as Egyptians celebrated their revolt, which came on the 32nd anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Iran on February 11, 1979.
Gibbs spoke as the tumultuous political events in Egypt, which brought about the downfall of president Hosni Mubarak, became the latest flashpoint for the bitter 30-year rivalry between Washington and the Islamic Republic.
Earlier, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had styled the Egyptian uprising as a revolt against a government allied with the West, and said Egyptians should be vigilant of the United States.
“The Iranian nation is your friend and it is your right to freely choose your path. The Iranian nation backs this right of yours,” he said.
“We will soon see a new Middle East materializing without America and the Zionist regime and there will be no room for world arrogance (the West) in it,” he said, also slamming Israel.
In his own speech in response to the events in Egypt, US President Barack Obama said that Washington would stand with the people who overthrew Mubarak, a stalwart American ally for 30 years
“The United States will continue to be a friend and partner to Egypt. We stand ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary — and asked for — to pursue a credible transition to a democracy,” he said.
Obama also sought to connect with the youth of Egypt.
“I’m also confident that the same ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit that the young people of Egypt have shown in recent days can be harnessed to create new opportunity — jobs and businesses that allow the extraordinary potential of this generation to take flight.”
Earlier, the White House had issued a statement condemning Iran for jamming the BBC’s Persian-language television channel, ostensibly over coverage of demonstrations in Egypt.
“The recent arrests and effort to block international media outlets underscores the hypocrisy of the Iranian leadership,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
“For all of its empty talk about Egypt, the government of Iran should allow the Iranian people the same universal right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and communicate in Tehran that the people are exercising in Cairo.”
The subtext for the current showdown between Washington and Tehran is the deadly crackdown launched by Iranian authorities when hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against official results giving Ahmadinejad a second term in a June 2009 presidential election.
Dozens of Iranians were killed, hundreds wounded and scores arrested by security forces during the protests which shook the pillars of the Islamic regime.
At the time, the Obama administration was accused of being too slow to the embrace the cause of the protesters, as it sought to avoid injecting the United States into the drama, though ultimately vigorously condemned the crackdown.
Friday’s sharp exchanges came on the anniversary of the Iranian revolution which toppled shah Mohammad Reza, a key US ally.
Diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington were broken off soon after and there is no official contact between the two foes to this day.
During last year’s anniversary rally, Iran’s opposition attempted to stage anti-government demonstrations which were crushed by the authorities.