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US to impose 'further costs' this week on Iran over crackdown: Biden

Activists demonstrate against the Iranian regime in October 2022 in New York, following the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the Islamic republic's notorious morality police
— Washington (AFP)

President Joe Biden said Monday that the United States will place "further costs" on Iran in response to the violent crackdown against "peaceful protestors" in the country.

"This week, the United States will be imposing further costs on perpetrators of violence against peaceful protestors. We will continue holding Iranian officials accountable and supporting the rights of Iranians to protest freely," Biden said in a statement.

Biden said he is "gravely concerned about reports of the intensifying violent crackdown on peaceful protestors in Iran, including students and women, who are demanding their equal rights and basic human dignity."

"The United States stands with Iranian women and all the citizens of Iran who are inspiring the world with their bravery."

Widespread street demonstrations sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who died following her detention by morality police for allegedly breaching the country's strict Islamic dress code, are in their third week.

Biden gave no indication of what measures he was considering. Iran is already under crippling US economic sanctions largely related to its controversial nuclear program which Tehran insists has only civilian purposes but the international community suspects is secretly aimed at building an atomic weapon.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday said the United States and Israel are fomenting the unrest.

But White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the students "are rightly engaged with the Iranian government's treatment of women and girls and the ongoing violent crackdown on peaceful protests."

"This weekend's crackdowns are precisely the sort of behavior that drives Iran, talented young people to leave the country, by the thousands, to seek the dignity and opportunity elsewhere," she said.

"We're alarmed and appalled by reports of security authorities, responding to university students' peaceful protests with violence and mass arrests."

- Nuclear negotiations continue -

Despite the tension, the White House spokeswoman made clear that the administration sees its ongoing negotiations to salvage an international deal with Iran over its nuclear program as separate.

"We have concerns with Iran," she said, but the complex international proposal known as the JCPOA -- which seeks to ensure Iran can't build a nuclear weapon in return for lifting sanctions -- "is the best way for us to address the nuclear problem."

"As long as we believe pursuing JCPOA talks is in the US national security interests, we will do so, and so at the same time, we will continue to use other tools to address other problems with Iran's behavior."

Jean-Pierre raised a historical analogy, noting that Ronald Reagan negotiated with his Soviet counterparts on nuclear weapons treaties while doubling down on US opposition to the communist regime on other matters.

"Even at the height of the Cold War, as President Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an 'evil empire,' he was also engaged in arms control talks," she said.

"He knew on the one hand we had to push back vigorously against the repression of the Soviet Union, and at the same time we had to protect and defend the security of ourselves, allies and our partners," she said.

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