It remains hard for journalists to piece together what's happening beyond the capital, especially as the government has blocked both the photo-sharing app Instagram and the messaging app Telegram, which protesters have used to organize their demonstrations and share footage.
Such images only provide a limited view of events on the ground, and can be easily manipulated. Syria's state-run news agency SANA said Assad and Velayati have vowed to defend their interests amid rising regional tensions.
"But those ordinary Iranians who were deceived by these American-backed rioters should be dealt with based on Islamic clemency", cleric Ahmad Khatami told worshippers at Tehran university, TV reported. "When cyberspace was closed down, the sedition was stopped".
The United States is imposing sanctions on five Iranian entities over their involvement in developing ballistic missiles.
Violent demonstrations have rocked Iran for nearly a week, leaving at least 21 people dead, with the head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday (Jan 3) declaring the "end of the sedition". A similar rally followed Friday prayers in Tehran.
The letter was released after Trump pledged to help Iranians "take back" their government and the White House weighed imposing sanctions on those involved in the crackdown against demonstrators. He did not elaborate.
While they acknowledged that Iran's economic woes are indeed feeding the ongoing rallies in Iran, experts at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank noted on Friday that the demonstrations are primarily fueled by displeasure with decisions made by the Islamic Republic's regime.
Further complicating matters is the fact that to avoid violating the sanctions regime, US companies have to make sure that their services aren't being used by the Iranian government, setting up what Harrell describes as yet another major compliance problem. But Signal is mostly unavailable in Iran - technology activists report mixed service - because Google has blocked Iranians from using a service called Google App Engine. Iranian state media said the rallies were held in more than 10 cities around the country, including the Shiite religious center of Qom, and the western cities of Ahvaz and Kermanshah. President Donald Trump has repeatedly tweeted praise for the protesters, infuriating Iranian officials.
Amnesty International said yesterday that more than a thousand Iranians had been arrested and detained in jails "notorious for torture and other ill-treatment over the past seven days", with many being denied access to families and lawyers.
Google and Apple soon made their app stores available to Iranian consumers, but American companies did not rush to make their products available there, in large part due to problems processing Iranian payments.
Videos of protests seen by The Associated Press purported to show demonstrators in Tehran on Thursday night, some chanting: "Death to Khamenei!" referring to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In other social media footage, hundreds poured into streets of the northwestern city of Orumiyeh near the Turkish border, chanting anti-government slogans. Some claimed online that government employees had been instructed to take part, something Iranian media did not discuss.
"Why should they arrest someone like me when I protest the rise of the price of eggs?" he said.
USA envoy Nikki Haley calls for emergency sessions on Iran at the UN Security Council and the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission.
"The world should applaud their courage" and amplify their message, Haley said. "It is limiting the flow of information into Iran, restricting free speech, and attempting to prevent the outside world from observing its own repression", her statement said. He should join millions of Iranians in calling for an end to clerical rule and the abolition of the office of Iran's supreme leader.
"The United States is abusing the platform of the Security Council", said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, whose country has close ties to Iran. On Jan. 1, he tweeted: "Iran is failing at every level despite the bad deal made by the Obama Administration".
The size of the protests may matter less, however, than the issues the protesters have raised, Gerges said: "They have exposed the fragility of the Islamic Republic".
Iran's prosecutor general has directly named a Central Intelligence Agency official as being the "main designer" of the protests that have shaken the country.
"Look at the recent days' incidents", he said.
The protests began on December 28, sparked by Iran's flagging economy and a rise in food prices, before morphing over the following days into calls for the downfall of Iran's theocratic government. The envoy lashed back against their "numerous absurd tweets", which provoked the protesters "to engage in disruptive acts" and even encouraged them "to change their government, admitting that the USA is engaged in interfering with the internal affairs of Iran through Facebook and Twitter".
In theory, Iranian internet users could switch to Signal, another encrypted messaging application that offers a higher level of security than Telegram, to bypass government controls.
State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said on Tuesday that Iranians were using virtual private networks to access Facebook and Twitter pages where the department was communicating with protesters.