The news of a senior U.S. envoy at the Geneva talks with Iranian negotiators could hardly count as a "groundbreaking policy shift" capable of ending the nuclear row with Tehran. Only a week after the talks, the Iranian regime raised the stakes by trumpeting the expansion of its enrichment program, underscoring the futility of the diplomatic push before it even got off the ground. This was another sad outcome of a profoundly counterproductive and inconsistent three-decade-old policy, which, if continued unabated by the West, has all the makings of a potential catastrophe an Iran bomb or a bombing of Iran.
Before sending its envoy to Geneva, the State Department promised that he would only be there "listening," not talking â€“ as if more talking to the Iranian regime could improve the situation. However, the move was widely seen as yet another bold concession to an increasingly belligerent regime, which has not backed away even faintly from its threatening rhetoric, its defiance of the international community, and its killing of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. If anything, Iran’s destructive meddling in both those countries, however, is a plain testament to the folly of talking to Tehran.
The European nuclear negotiations have not fared any better. Recently, France’s foreign minister provided a sensible account of their outcome, saying, "I have talked for a long time with the Iranians, many hours. â€¦ There was nothing fundamental that was advancing. We will continue but I have to say we have already tried very hard." Indeed, the mullahs have shown to be incredibly adept at using the last five years of negotiations to perfect their enrichment program, which now has nearly 6,000 spinning centrifuges.
So, far from considering a change in behavior, at a minimum, the mullahs are currently playing for time. When their delegation handed out a document in Geneva proposing a timeline for more talks, a senior European official told the New York Times: "If you were to try to implement it, it would take a minimum of several years." The question has now become: Where would they be after several months of more talks? And, could the West really afford to find out?
Judging by experience, the assumption of taming Tehran through engagement and dialogue is profoundly naive and contradicts even the most basic facts. Regime officials have consistently stated that ending uranium enrichment is a non-negotiable "right," and thus constitutes a "red line." That "red line" is there for good reason. The mullahs’ ultimate objectives are to preserve their theocratic regime, silence all calls for democracy at home, and export their fundamentalism all over the Middle East. Having a nuclear arsenal is a vital necessity for implementing that agenda.
To avoid that outcome, Washington must swiftly and fundamentally change tracks. Instead of reaching out to its enemies, it must engage those who are in the best position to bring about democratic change in Iran: millions of Iranians led by their organized resistance movement.
The first step in that direction is to remove the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/Mujahedin-e-Khalq (PMOI/MEK), the principal opposition to the mullahs, from the U.S. terrorist list. This demand was echoed in Paris last month by more than 70,000 Iranians participating in the largest-ever gathering of Iranians in exile.
In 1997, Washington blacklisted the PMOI, ironically at the behest of the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, the Iranian regime. After a long legal challenge, a similar ban on the PMOI was finally lifted in the UK in June. And, two years ago, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities ordered the EU to do the same. Here in the United States, the State Department is best advised to heed the multiple court verdicts in favor of the PMOI across the Atlantic, and remove the PMOI from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, when it comes for a mandatory review in October.
Removing the immoral, and now illegal, terror tag against the PMOI will foster a new approach towards Iran, one that offers considerable strategic depth and long-term benefits. Recently, the Italian Parliament hosted the president-elect of the Iranian opposition, Maryam Rajavi, and presented her with a declaration of support from the majority of parliamentarians. There, Mrs. Rajavi told dozens of parliamentarians that the West is dangerously deceiving itself by assuming that its sole options in dealing with the mullahs are either appeasement or war. There is a third viable option, she said, which is embodied by the Iranian people and their organized opposition to the terrorist regime ruling Iran.
Indeed, a "groundbreaking policy shift" toward Iran is long overdue. But engaging America’s enemies and chiding those who can make a real difference could hardly qualify as one.
Ali Safavi, a member of Iran’s parliament in exile, is president of Near East Policy Research.