Trump says Iran crackdown 'brutal' and 'horrible'

US President Donald Trump takes part in a luncheon with the UN Security Council permanent representatives in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on Dec.5, 2019. — AFP

WASHINGTON — US President Donald trump on Thursday called a crackdown on demonstrations in Iran "brutal" and said the United States would react "strongly" to any threat from Iran to its interests in the region.

"They're killing a lot of people and they're arresting thousands of their own citizens in a brutal crackdown," trump said at a meeting with UN diplomats at the White House.

Calling it a "horrible situation," trump warned that any new threat from Iran "will be met very strongly."

Earlier, Brian Hook the US pointman on Iran said that Iranian authorities may have killed more than 1,000 people in a crackdown on demonstrations, which Washington cast as the clerical regime's worst-ever internal challenge.

He acknowledged that information was difficult to verify but said: "We know for certain it is many, many hundreds." Hook said that "many thousands" of Iranians have been wounded and that at least 7,000 protesters have been detained.

Protests broke out on Nov. 15 in Iran, which is under sweeping sanctions from the United States, after the government abruptly hiked fuel prices.

Hook said the ensuing crackdown showed that the regime has had to rely on brute force and was losing support even with its traditional working-class base.

"This is the worst political crisis the regime has faced and its 40 years," Hook said.

The United States, which considers Iran's regime its top enemy, has appealed for Iranians who can circumvent restrictions on the Internet to send footage of the protests.

Hook said the United States has received photos or videos from 32,000 people and was basing its estimate on their information, as well as reports from outside groups.

Iran has dismissed the high death tolls reported by foreign sources as "utter lies" and has so far confirmed only five dead — four security force personnel killed by "rioters" and one civilian. — AFP