The U.S. has "no beef" with the Iranian people who have shown in recent street protests that they "aren't buying" the policies of the regime in Tehran, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday.
Matts also told Pentagon reporters that Iran has thus far failed in the grand scheme to establish a "land bridge" across Syria as part of an overall effort to create a "Shiite crescent" in the Mideast running from Tehran to Beirut.
"I don't think there's a land bridge right now" in Syria, he said, despite Iran's continued support of Hezbollah in Lebanon which has sent fighters to the civil war against Russian-backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In Tehran on Sunday, the Iran's Revolutionary Guards claimed victory over the protests in which at least 22 have been killed and 1,000 arrested in widespread demonstrations that have posed the boldest challenge to the clerical establishment since the so-called "Green" movement of 2009.
The latest protests by mainly youthful and working-class demonstrators spread to more than 80 cities and rural towns in an outburst of anger at corruption, unemployment and a deepening gap between rich and poor.
In a statement Sunday on their Sepahnews website, the Revolutionary Guards said that Iran's "revolutionary people along with tens of thousands of Basij [Revolutionary Guards] forces, police and the Intelligence Ministry have broken down the chain" of unrest.
The Guards said the protests had been fomented by "the United States, Britain, the Zionist regime [Israel], Saudi Arabia, the hypocrites, and monarchists." Iran's official Fars news agency also said that counter-demonstrators had risen up "to condemn the foreign-backed riots in few towns."
At the Pentagon, Mattis joined with President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo and others in the administration in voicing support for the protesters.
"I think it's very important that we stand up and say that we understand the Iranian people. Our beef, if we have one, is not with the Iranian people. It is specifically the same regime that the Iranian people, clearly, are fed up with as well," Mattis said.
"So the most important thing, I think, is it's up to the Iranian people what form of government they have, and to say we believe that they should have the kind of government they want," Mattis said.
"And, right now, the regime senses that they've got a lot of people who aren't buying this revolutionary regime's act," he said.
"And my intent is to show that, to the world, clearly the Iranian people aren't buying this revolution or export of their terrorism, or whatever the revolutionary regime people want to call it. They're not buying it there at home. We're not buying it internationally," Mattis said.
On Syria, Mattis said there was still too much fighting going on by a variety of forces with differing agendas in the civil war for an Iranian "land bridge" to take effect -- "rough terrain, rough enemy units that haven't been cleaned up, and all the usual cleanup going on."
He said again, "I don't think there's a land bridge right now."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.