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At a campaign rally, US President Joe Biden briefly mentioned that Iran would soon be "free," triggering a scornful response from Iranian counterpart President Ebrahim Raisi.

On Thursday, attendees held up posters of a "free Iran" as Biden spoke about his administration's initiatives to enhance veterans' healthcare, including legislation to increase access to cancer and respiratory treatment for those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Biden took a breath and seemed to address the audience.

“Don’t worry, we’re going to free Iran. They’re going to free themselves pretty soon," he said in San Diego, drawing cheers from the crowd. California has a large Iranian-American community. 

In a speech commemorating the Islamic revolution's 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi offered a retort.

He said, “Mr. President, Iran was freed 43 years ago. Iran is determined not to fall into your captivity, and will never become your cash cow." Raisi said the comment was possibly “absent-mindedness" by the president.

Iran has been engulfed in protests for more than a month now following the death of Mahsa Amini while a police officer. In the government's crackdown, more protesters have been killed by Iranian police, escalating the unrest.

According to a National Security Council spokesperson, the president was expressing his support for the protests as he has done every time they have occurred. The spokesperson further stated that the administration would keep looking for ways to make Tehran answerable for how it treats its citizens.

However, Biden's comments cast doubt on the thoughtfully planned US response to the demonstrations. While attempting to avoid giving the impression that the US is somehow directing the protesters, as Iran's leaders have claimed, administration officials have expressed support for the protesters' goals.

As negotiations for a new nuclear agreement stalled and the US threatened to impose sanctions for Iran's sale of drones to Russia for use in its invasion of Ukraine, relations between Tehran and Washington were already deteriorating.

On September 16, Amini, 22, passed away from a coma. She was detained by Iran's so-called morality police while she was visiting Tehran with her family for allegedly disobeying Islamic dress codes, prompting one of the strongest public criticisms of the Islamic Republic since the 1979 revolution.

Because of the demonstrations, the US has halted talks with Iran's government about restarting an agreement to limit the country's nuclear weapons programme and has accused Tehran of providing Russia with weapons for its invasion of Ukraine. 

(With inputs from Bloomberg)

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