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What is the U.S. willing to do to support the protest movement in Iran?

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

What is the U.S. willing to do to support the protest movement in Iran? Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with several women activists of Iranian descent on Friday to hear their views. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State Antony Blinken says there have been remarkable displays of courage by women in Iran. They've been protesting ever since a 22-year-old woman was allegedly beaten to death by Iran's morality police.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We've worked to support those who are standing for their fundamental freedoms, despite the efforts of the regime to deny them the ability to assemble, to speak freely, to communicate with each other.

KELEMEN: Blinken invited five women activists to the State Department Friday to talk about ways the U.S. can help. He was joined by his deputy and other high-ranking officials. Iranian American writer Roya Hakakian says she told Blinken that this movement in Iran isn't just about demanding reforms. It's about regime change.

ROYA HAKAKIAN: And I think what's really important is for America to realize that the Iranian people want their regime to go. All we have to do is provide them with all kinds of support that would strengthen the hands of the people against the tyrants that they have to overthrow.

KELEMEN: She's not talking about weapons. And Iranian Americans have a wide range of views on what the U.S. should do to help. She says Iranians need free internet access and other ways to communicate. We meet in the lobby at the State Department. She says she found Blinken to be open to ideas. Hakakian says she also encouraged U.S. diplomat Robert Malley, who was in the meeting, to pause talks aimed at reviving a nuclear deal with Iran.

HAKAKIAN: So I personally apologized to him because I assume this is his baby. But the most awful thing we - the United States can possibly do at the moment is to sit beside the very people who are shooting at the demonstrators, peaceful demonstrators, on the streets and seem to be shaking their hands or be identified with them.

KELEMEN: The Biden administration says it can work on human rights while also seeking a deal that stops Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But State Department spokesman Ned Price says no deal is imminent. And that's not the focus right now. The focus, he says, is shining a spotlight on the bravery of Iranian protesters and finding ways to support them. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.