Clinton Says Iran Backing 'Vicious' Syria Crackdown
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday accused Iran of backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's "vicious assaults" against pro-democracy protesters.
"Iran is supporting the Assad regime’s vicious assaults on peaceful protesters and military actions against its own cities," Clinton said, comparing its response to Iran's crackdown on pro-reform protests in 2009.
"Two years ago this week, Iranian citizens went to the polls in the hopes of expressing their democratic rights. But the authorities in Tehran had no interest in the will of the people," she said.
"When the people reached for their aspirations, the government responded with brutal repression. Two years later, that repression continues."
Syria's uprising was triggered in mid-March by the arrest and torture of 15 children and adolescents accused of spraying anti-regime graffiti in the southern town of Daraa, which then became the epicenter of the revolt.
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF has since said that at least 30 children have been shot dead in the revolt against the Assad family's 40-year rule.
The revolt gained new strength last month with the release of gruesome pictures of the body of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, whom activists say was severely tortured, a charge denied by authorities.
Clinton compared Khatib to Neda Agha-Soltan, a young Iranian woman who became an emblem of the 2009 protests after she was shot during a demonstration and shown bleeding out on a widely circulated online video.
"The world was shocked by images of a 13-year-old Syrian boy, tortured and mutilated by Syrian security forces. It reminded us of a young Iranian woman, killed in the street two years ago for all to see," she said.
She added that the United States would "stand with citizens -- including the citizens of Syria and Iran -- who yearn to be free and to exercise their universal rights."
Washington has repeatedly called on Syria to halt the violent crackdown that has killed hundreds of civilians and sent thousands of people streaming across its border with Turkey.
Last week wounded refugees being treated in Turkey accused Iranian forces of taking part in the fierce assault in and around Jisr al-Shughour, a northwestern town where tens of thousands have fled the violence.
The United States has demanded that Assad lead a peaceful political transition or step aside, but has stopped short of calling for his ouster.
It has also blacklisted Iranian officials for their alleged role in the crackdown.
Iran has meanwhile stood by Syria, its main Arab ally, and condemned U.S. "meddling" in its affairs. It has accused the United States and Israel of backing the revolt and said the foreign media is exaggerating the violence.
Iran suppressed its own wave of protests following 2009 elections that returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and were slammed as fraudulent by the opposition and a movement of tech-savvy young activists.