US adversaries highlight unrest to undercut criticism

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Demonstrators hold placards during a march in central Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, June 1. 2020, to protest the death of United States' George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd, who after a white police officer who is now charged with murder, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. (Dean Purcell/New Zealand Herald via AP

BANGKOK – Standing at a lectern with a backdrop map of the world behind him reminiscent of one at the State Department, the spokesman of Iran's Foreign Ministry made a point Monday to criticize the U.S. in English amid ongoing protests over police killings of black people.

“To the American people, the world has ... heard your outcry over this state oppression," Abbas Mousavi told reporters in Tehran.

So too have Washington's adversaries in Iran and elsewhere.

Long the target of American criticism, these nations have used the protests over the killing of George Floyd as an opportunity to hit back at the country held up by U.S. leaders for decades as “the shining city upon a hill.”

By putting forth images of the unrest, they portray the U.S. as a hypocritical superpower unable to secure its own people, as well as normalizing the violence and repression they visit on their own citizens.

“To be clear, though they are trying to sympathize with protesters in the U.S., their aim is to leverage the internal divisions in America, ... not to advance the debate on this,” said Ariane Tabatabai, a Middle East fellow who studies Iran at the Washington-based German Marshall Fund.

“Regime officials particularly like the theme of racial tensions in the U.S. because it allows them to point the finger at Washington, which is often front and center condemning human rights abuses by the regime,” she said.

That's particularly valuable to Iran, which has violently put down recent nationwide economic demonstrations by killing hundreds, arresting thousands and disrupting internet access. The Islamic Republic has seen its already-ailing economy crater since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers, cutting off its oil sales.