By David Gollust
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday accused Iran of trying to exploit and hijack democracy protests in the Middle East and North Africa. Clinton spoke at the end of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Berlin focusing on Libya and regional unrest.
In her strongest comments on the subject to date, Clinton is accusing Iran of hypocritically trying to align itself with popular uprisings in some North African and Middle Eastern states, while trying to thwart democracy movements at home and in its key ally Syria.
Speaking in Berlin a day after the State Department said Iran was materially aiding political repression by Syria, Clinton said there is no evidence Iran has instigated Middle East protests, but said Iran is trying to “take advantage” of the turmoil.
“They are trying to exploit unrest. They are trying to advance their agenda in neighboring countries. They continue to try to undermine peace and stability to provoke further conflict,” said Clinton. “And we want people in the region to understand that the Iranian government’s motive here is to destabilize countries, not to assist them in their democratic transitions.”
Clinton said Iran’s silence on anti-government protests in Syria is a further example of “hypocrisy” by Tehran and said in an era of instant communication, no one is fooled by Iranian tactics.
The Wall Street Journal Thursday quoted U.S. officials as saying Iran is sending Syria crowd-control gear along with help in blocking and monitoring Syrian protestors’ use of the Internet, cell phones and text-messaging.
The State Department declined detailed comment on the report, but said there is “credible evidence” of material Iranian assistance for the government in Damascus.
On Syria, Clinton called on the government of President Bashar al-Assad to refrain from further violence and to, in her words, “stop repressing their citizens” and to allow in human rights monitors and journalists to verify what is happening on the ground.
Syria, controlled by President al-Assad and his late father since 1970, has been hit by unprecedented unrest since mid-March with demonstrators demanding reform and an end to emergency rule.
The monitoring group Human Rights Watch said Friday that Syrian security and intelligence services have arbitrarily detained hundreds of protestors across the country, subjecting them to torture and other ill treatment.
The New York-based group said security agents also have arrested lawyers, journalists and others who have endorsed the protests.
It said Assad, who has spoken of the need for reforms, should rein in security forces and hold them accountable for abuses and that there can be no real reform while protestors are abused with impunity.