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WATCH: White House says Iran must respect citizens’ right to protest

The White House is expressing support for protesters demonstrating against the Iranian government, but is stopping short of calling for regime change.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday called the protests an “organic popular uprising organized by brave Iranian citizens.” She says the international community “cannot sit silent” as those demonstrating are met with violence.

Iranians have taken to the streets in recent days in a number of cities to protest the government’s handling of the economy. The demonstrations are the largest seen in Iran since those that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election.

“The United States supports the Iranian people and we call on the regime to respect its citizens’ basic right to peacefully express their desire for change,” Sanders said.

Asked whether the ultimate goal is for Iran’s Islamist government to be replaced, Sanders said the U.S. hopes Iran begins to respect the rights of its people and ends its support for terrorist groups.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration raised the possibility it could impose more sanctions on Iran to punish it for cracking down on protesters.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says sanctions are one tool the U.S. has to respond to Iran’s behavior. She says the U.S. is “watching reports very closely of any potential human rights abuses.” She’s alluding to existing sanctions authorities that allow the U.S. to target Iran for human rights violations.

Nauert says the U.S. is expressing support for the Iranian people and for their right to free expression. She calls the protesters “brave” and “courageous.”

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