U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is calling on young Iranians involved in street protests against the government in Tehran to view the United States as a "natural ally" in their quest for freedom and democracy.
In an interview at the White House with Voice of America on January 3, Pence said "the American people stand with freedom-loving people in Iran and around the world, and I think this is a very hopeful moment."
"My goal…really my prayer, is that the people of Iran -- a youthful population, a well-educated population -- understand that the United States of America, the people of this country, are their natural ally. We want to see them achieve a free and democratic future. We want to see them step away from a regime that continues to menace the world."
Pence repeatedly contrasted the support for Iranian protesters being offered by U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration to the silence at the White House when antigovernment protests broke out in Iran in 2009, early in the presidency of Barack Obama.
"I remember back in 2009, that I was seeing this largely youth-driven following of the fraudulent election in Iran, people taking to the streets and demonstrating incredible courage" protesting against what they said was fraud in the reelection of former Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, he said.
"And they looked to the White House in those days in 2009, they looked for American leadership, and there was none. There was definitely silence from the Obama administration," Pence said.
In contrast to Trump’s more vocal approach, Obama's policy during the 2009 Green Revolution could be described as cautious amid concerns that intervention could make the United States, which was reviled as the "Great Satan" by Iran’s hard-liners, a target and the rallying point for the clerical regime to act against the protesters.
As a member of Congress at the time, Pence said he co-sponsored a resolution that passed nearly unanimously in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives offering support for the Iranian protesters, in a move that he said prompted the Obama administration to also start voicing its support.
"The contrast between the silence and the failure to support freedom in the last administration and President Trump’s unapologetic willingness to stand with the courageous people of Iran -- I know it is giving hope to the people on the streets and those cities across the country. And we’re going to continue to support them...not just verbally but as they bring about change in their country."
Pence said Trump's speaking out for freedom in Iran is "very consistent with America's role as a leading champion of freedom." But he said the United States is also prepared to act in support of the protesters.
"I can assure you the United States stands with the people of Iran who want a better and more prosperous and freer future,” he said.
Iran's ambassador to the United Nations on January 3 charged that expressions of support for the protesters from Pence and Trump amount to meddling in Iran's internal affairs, while some outside experts have questioned whether the United States can do much to help people who take to the streets to question the government in Iran.
But Pence insisted that Washington is prepared to act on behalf of the protesters, although he did not specify what the administration might do.
“There is an extraordinary amount that the United States and countries around the world can do for the people of Iran if they continue to stand up for their own freedom and to stand up for change and to reject the radical ideology that overtook their country decades ago and continues to dissect the wider world through the export of terrorism," he said.