After popular uprisings toppled regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, the Obama administration appears to be fanning the embers of unrest in Iran, calling on the country's theocratic regime to permit a new wave of demonstrations against its rule.
Iran, after cracking down on dissent following the disputed 2009 election, is once again vowing to stifle the opposition as anti-government organizers call for a nationwide march Monday. With questions swirling about what regimes, if any, will be claimed next by the regional uprising in the Middle East, the Iranian government is preemptively showing its determination not to become one of them.
But while the Obama administration, which did not openly back Iranian protesters in 2009, is hardly calling for regime change, top officials have made clear that the people of Iran should have their voices heard -- just as they did in Cairo.
Iranian dissidents are holding out hope that, if the government faces global pressure, the momentum could shift in their favor.
Reza Pahlavi, the eldest son of the last shah of Iran who was deposed in the 1979 revolution, told Fox News on Sunday that the outcome in Egypt must be "emboldening" for his country. Though some analysts warn Iran has proved it has the capacity and the will to strike down the opposition, Pahlavi suggested some in the Iranian military might not stand by the regime to the end.
"Our time as a region has finally come," Pahlavi said. "My compatriots in Tehran want to have their Tehran moment, as Egyptians had their Cairo moment. ... Iran's turn is going to come up soon as well."
He urged "free countries" to drop their attempts at dialogue with Iran and offer more support for those trying to effect a change in leadership.
"The people are now fighting tooth and nail to defend their freedom totally under-armed, totally underequipped," Pahlavi told Fox News. "The least we could do from the point of view of the free world is to stand by them, tell them that they're not alone, that their voices have been heard."
Obama administration officials have, at this point, said their voices should be heard. National Security Adviser Tom Donilon issued a statement Saturday urging Iran not to follow through with stated plans to crush the protesters.
"By announcing that they will not allow opposition protests, the Iranian government has declared illegal for Iranians what it claimed was noble for Egyptians," Donilon said. "We call on the government of Iran to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate, and communicate that's being exercised in Cairo."
That was after Vice President Biden on Friday called for Iran to "let your people march, let your people speak, release your people from jail."
"I think what you've seen in the region is the government of Iran, quite frankly, scared of the will of its people," he said.
From Bahrain to Yemen to Algeria, Middle Eastern and African regimes are facing continuing unrest in the wake of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolts. Some of those countries, notably Yemen, are cooperating with the United States in counterterrorism operations. Though President Obama welcomed the political transition in Egypt, the United States had been aligned with ousted President Hosni Mubarak's regime for three decades.
The United States faces no such dilemma with Iran, though the Obama administration repeatedly has tried to engage with the country over its nuclear program, to little result.
Former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley noted that the last time Iranians tried to rise up against their government, "they were brutally repressed." That possibility surely has the administration hedging as it monitors the stirrings of Iranian dissidents two years later. But Hadley suggested the dynamic could be different this time.
"The question is what the Iranian people will say when they see Egypt. And I think an answer will be, if the Egyptian people can have their freedom ... why not us?"
Fox News' Peter Doocy contributed to this report.