In the course of a single day, President Trump on Tuesday gave a “no comment,” a “no” and a “yes” in response to questions about whether the U.S. supported antigovernment protesters in Iran.
Meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the NATO summit in London, Trump was asked if the U.S. supports Iranian protesters in what has become the country’s deadliest political unrest in decades.
“I don’t want to comment on that,” Trump said.
He went on to give a definitive response anyway: “The answer’s ‘no.’”
That appeared to contradict remarks made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week after Iran shut off internet access across the country. Addressing the people of Iran, Pompeo said: “The United States hears you, we support you, and we will continue to stand with you in your struggle for a brighter future for your people and for your great nation.”
A few minutes after saying he wouldn’t comment, and then immediately denying U.S. support for the protesters, the president reversed himself, tweeting, “The United States of America supports the brave people of Iran who are protesting for their FREEDOM. We have under the Trump Administration, and always will!”
Trump later clarified his position, explaining during a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he misunderstood the original question as being about financial, rather than political, support.
“We do support them totally and have supported them from the beginning,” he said. Earlier Tuesday, Trump spoke out against Iran’s security forces and their brutal crackdown on protesters. “They have massive riots. They’re having protests all over the country,” he said. “And they’re killing a lot of people. Everyone knows that, that’s why they turned off their internet system, so nobody can find out.”
Over the past few weeks, protesters in dozens of cities across Iran took to the streets, at first to oppose increased gasoline prices. But the demonstrations quickly turned political, with calls for the prime minister’s resignation, and became increasingly violent as security forces began cracking down.
While Trump has called out “the death and tragedy that the Iranian Regime is causing,” Iran has responded to American support for the protests, calling Pompeo’s statements “hypocritical” in light of economic pressures that have been mounted against the Middle Eastern country by the Trump administration.
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have remained high after Trump last year pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal, which limited Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. Since pulling out of the agreement, the U.S. has re-imposed economy-crippling sanctions on Iran.
Earlier this year, after announcing a fresh round of sanctions against Iran, Trump tweeted, “I look forward to the day that sanctions come off Iran, and they become a productive and prosperous nation again – The sooner the better!”