Al-Monitor – The State Department on Wednesday condemned the use of violence against anti-government protesters in Iran, a rebuke that comes as nuclear negotiations with Tehran remain at a standstill.
The widespread protests, which erupted nearly two weeks ago over chronic water shortages in the southwestern region of Khuzestan, have spread to several cities including the capital, Tehran.
Amnesty International has accused Iran’s security forces of deploying unlawful force, including by firing live ammunition and birdshot, on the protests. State media reports at least five people have died, but rights groups say the casualty count is much higher.
“The Iranian people are now putting a spotlight not only on their unmet needs but also their unfulfilled aspirations for respect for human rights — rights to which individuals the world over are entitled,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
“We urge the Iranian government to allow its citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression and to freely access information, including via the Internet,” Price said, adding that the United States is monitoring reports of internet slowdowns in the region.
The US condemnation comes as the nuclear negotiations between Tehran and world powers in Vienna remain stalled. The sixth round of talks ended in June without a deal on reviving the landmark 2015 accord, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric, is set to take office next week. Iranian officials have indicated talks won’t resume until after the transition of power.
On Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the “cowardly” United States for the deadlock in the Austrian capital. Khamenei said one main sticking point is the language the United States wants inserted into the agreement that would require Iran to negotiate on its ballistic missile program and regional issues at a later date.