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Iran's Foreign Minister Warns Foreigners Not To Foment Protests

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (file photo)

Iran's foreign minister has warned other countries not to foment insecurity in his country.

In a reference to antigovernment protests that have erupted across Iran during the past two weeks, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif echoed the official position of Iran's government that the protests were fomented by the intelligence services of foreign countries -- including the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Zarif told a security conference in Tehran on January 8 that "no country can create a secure environment for itself at the expense of creating insecurity among its neighbors."

The official IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying that "such efforts" will only backfire.

The United States has rejected Iran’s claims that Washington was behind the protests, which have led to the deaths of 22 people and the arrest of more than 1,700 others.

IRAN LIVE BLOG: Antigovernment Protests Reportedly Continue

CIA chief Mike Pompeo denied on January 7 that his agency had any role in the protests, but predicted the unrest "is not behind us."

President Donald Trump has praised the protesters and suggested that Washington would throw its support behind them at a suitable time.

"Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government," Trump wrote on Twitter on January 3. "You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!"

In other tweets, he has described Iran as "failing at every level" and declared it is "TIME FOR CHANGE!"

EU Invites Zarif

On January 7, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the European Union would invite Zarif for talks about the widespread antigovernment protests that have roiled the country since December 28.

Gabriel told ZDF TV in Berlin that "together with the EU's foreign policy chief [Federica Mogherini], we agreed to invite the Iranian foreign minister, if possible next week."

"We very quickly affirmed that we support the freedom to demonstrate and that the state should support this," Gabriel said.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (file photo)
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (file photo)

But he suggested that his country would not follow suit if Washington steps in to support the protesters, stating that Germany and France have "warned against attempts at instrumentalizing the domestic conflicts in Iran."

Gabriel’s remarks come after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed on January 7 that antigovernment protests it blames on foreign instigators have been "defeated."

In a January 7 statement, the IRGC said "Iran's revolutionary people along with tens of thousands of Basij forces, police, and the Intelligence Ministry have broken down the chain [of unrest] the United States, Britain," Israel, Saudi Arabia, militants, and monarchists.

But RFE/RL has received credible reports that protests continued in at least nine cities across Iran on January 6, including Tehran, where social media footage showed gatherings despite a large police presence.

RFE/RL's Radio Farda also obtained credible reports on January 6 from sources in Iran about overnight demonstrations against Iran's clerical rulers in Takestan, Arak, Masjed Soleiman, Mashhad, Qazvin, Rasht, Lahijan, and Khomein, the birthplace of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic republic.

Reformists Deny Foreign Involvement

Meanwhile, a group of 16 prominent reformists living in Iran issued a statement rejecting the government’s claim that the protests were organized and orchestrated by foreign countries.

The signatories said, "Despite the fact the enemies of the country always try to take advantage of such events, we should know that any kind of foreign interference would not be possible without the existence of internal conditions."

Iranian students clash with riot police during an antigovernment protest at Tehran University on December 30.
Iranian students clash with riot police during an antigovernment protest at Tehran University on December 30.

They said the government claim of foreign involvement was "an insult" to Iranians, and leads to "negligence toward the real causes of the protests."

Iran's parliament held a closed-door session on January 7 to discuss the antigovernment protests.

The parliamentary session was called by a reformist faction of lawmakers who questioned security and intelligence officials about the causes of the unrest.

Internet Controls

Parliament's ICANA website reported that lawmakers questioned Interior Minister Abdolrahmani Rahmani Fazli, Intelligence Minister Mahmud Alavi, and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani.

It said some lawmakers voiced concerns about Internet controls put in place in the midst of the unrest, including a ban on Iran's most popular messaging app, Telegram, which officials said had been used to incite violence.

Access to Telegram remained blocked on January 8, despite claims from Iran's FARS news agency on January 7 that the restrictions on Telegram had been "fully lifted."

"The parliament is not in favor of keeping Telegram filtering in place, but it must pledge that it will not be used as a tool by the enemies of the Iranian people," Behrouz Nemati, spokesman for the parliament's presiding board, said.

Almost a third of Iran's 80 million people use the Telegram app as their main source of news and a way of bypassing the highly restrictive state media.

With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari, Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa, FARS, and Press TV