The United States said Monday it saw no signs that Iran was improving its treatment of women following reports that Tehran was scrapping its notorious morality police amid a wave of civil unrest.
Iran is witnessing some of the most significant protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in the wake of the September 16 death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old who had been detained by the morality police, which enforces strict codes on women's dress.
Iran's prosecutor general was quoted at the weekend as saying the morality police units had been closed down, but campaigners voiced doubt that meaningful change was afoot and the move was not confirmed by the government.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked about the remarks, saluted the "incredibly courageous" protesters and said reports on the morality police were unclear.
"I don't know where exactly this is going to go but the main thing is this is about the aspirations of the Iranian people," Blinken told reporters during trade talks with the European Union in Washington's Maryland suburbs.
"This is about whether the regime will take those into account and act on them or not. But the efforts to repress, to use violence, hold people back, that is not a sign of strength; that's a sign of weakness," Blinken said.
A State Department spokesman earlier said that the United States "will not comment on ambiguous or vague claims by Iranian officials.
"Sadly, nothing we have seen suggests Iran's leadership is improving its treatment of women and girls or ceasing the violence it inflicts on peaceful protesters."
Washington has repeatedly hit out at Iran over its record on women's rights and a crackdown by authorities on the protests.
In early November, Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States would work with other nations to oust Iran from the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).
Iran, ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, was elected to a term that ends in 2026. The United States is serving through next year.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, reiterated the call on Sunday, tweeting that the Iranian government should not be on an international commission "dedicated to promoting gender equality and women's empowerment."
"Removing Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women is the right thing to do."
A public petition to have Iran removed from the body had received 165,800 signatures as of Monday.
The 54-member UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is expected to vote next week on whether to expel the Islamic republic from the commission.
Iran has accused Washington of pressuring countries ahead of the vote.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani on Monday said the United States was trying to force out Iran "with help of certain European countries," calling such a move illegal and politically motivated.
"This goes against the free voting rights of the countries in international organizations," he said.