(CNSNews.com) – Former Democratic Sen. Lieberman expressed enthusiasm Thursday about President Trump’s nomination of Mike Pompeo to head the State Department, calling the CIA director “tremendously gifted” and a likely ally in the cause for a free Iran.
“I take great heart and encouragement from [Trump’s] nomination of Mike Pompeo to be the next secretary of state,” Lieberman told an Iranian new year (Nowruz) event on Capitol Hill, according to provided transcripts.
“I know Mike. He’s a tremendously gifted person. On the question of Iran, he understands the threat they represent to our security and to our values,” he said, adding that he believes Pompeo “will be a strong ally of our cause.”
Protests that erupted last December in the Iranian city of Mashhad and spread quickly across the country featured prominently at Thursday’s event, which was sponsored by the Organization of Iranian American Communities.
Speakers including lawmakers from both sides of the aisle voiced support for the “uprising” and voiced optimism about a future democratic Iran.
Lieberman said the recent protests differ from past ones because they are widespread, have tapped into anger over corruption, inequality and the regime’s foreign policy spending priorities – and because unlike the protests of 2009, they have drawn support from the U.S. government.
The 2009 protests – which began after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – had been a clash between different political strains in the government, the ayatollahs against so-called moderates, he said.
“This time, it really was the people against the government,” he argued, citing slogans and chants condemning the regime for its involvement in Syria while people at home were in need.
Lieberman called “extraordinary” the protestors’ shouts of “Death to Rouhani, Death to Khamenei,” which he contrasted to “the regime’s chant of ‘Death to America, Death to Israel.’”
Another major difference between the 2009 and 2017/18 protests was the differing responses of the Obama and Trump administrations.
“Unlike 2009 when the government of the United States – after all the greatest democracy in the world, believing in the principles which we do – turned away from the protest, I think because of the almost blinding focus that the administration had on securing the Iran nuclear agreement; this time the administration of the U.S. stood with the people, with the protestors, against the regime,” he said.
“And so too did and are members of both political parties in Congress,” Lieberman added, noting that participants at the Nowruz event included Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.) and Republican Sen. John Boozman (Ark.).
“They represent the bipartisan support for the people of Iran and their freedom. Why? Because Iran not only threatens our security, it demeans our values and offends them as well.”
Lieberman, a former Democratic and later independent senator from Connecticut, chairs the advisory board of United Against a Nuclear Iran, a bipartisan group opposed to the Iran nuclear deal.
‘Squandered billions of dollars on foreign adventures’
In his brief remarks at the event, Cardin also mentioned Pompeo, saying he has spoken to the secretary of state-nominee and would do so again next week.
“I want to make sure that the secretary of state will always represent our values and standup for human rights globally,” he said. “That’s particularly important today for the future of Iran.”
In a video message to the event, leader of the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) opposition group, Maryam Rajavi, said the recent protests made clear that Iranians reject “all factions within the regime.”
“The uprising took place in all Iranian provinces,” she said. “It focused on the regime’s overthrow. The protesters targeted the centers of suppression. They also rejected the regime’s export of fundamentalism and war to the region.”
Mitchell Reiss, who served in the George W. Bush State Department as special envoy for the Northern Ireland peace process, said the recent protests differed from previous ones in that they involved all sectors of society, including the farmers and the poor – “those elements of society that the regime has always counted on as its bedrock of support.”
“They’re protesting the lack of clean drinking water and a lack of economic opportunity and of course they’re also protesting a lack of freedom and human dignity,” he said.
Reiss predicted the protests, which have spread across the nation, would continue, “because this regime is both unwilling and unable to address these legitimate grievances.”
“This regime is riddled with corruption and economic mismanagement. It has squandered billions of dollars on foreign adventures that could be used to help the Iranian people and it’s sent its young men off to fight and die overseas for causes that the Iranian people do not support.”
Reiss also acknowledged Trump’s approach.
“We have a president in the White House who is willing to try many policies that his predecessors had been unwilling to try,” he said. “I doubt that he will be intimidated by the ayatollahs.”