Delisting Iranian Opposition MEK, Measuring Change in US Policy on Iran

Nima Sharif
A transatlantic rift in policy towards Iran seems to be closing rapidly as a momentum materializes in different policy making circles in Washington to close the gap due to recent developments in North Africa and Middle East.  The momentum emanates from a call to reposition the West in support of newly forming democracies across the region, rather than the old approach of engaging tyrants for economic reasons and turning a blind eye on actions of governments towards their own people. Simply, the West wants to be on the right side of history as developments continue.

A major shift, pivotal in realizing this policy change is considered to be the approach towards a leading resistance movement from Iran, the National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq organization or MEK. 

Black listed by the United States back in late 90s as a foreign terrorist organization, in order to win favors with the Iranian regime, the MEK has recently been the subject of a tug-of-war in Washington DC as many top ranking personalities including some former officials of past and present administrations continue to call on the State Department to delist them. An action that would be perceived as a sign of extending US support for the Iranian people against Tehran’s theocratic rulers and a major policy change toward democratic movements in Iran and the rest of the region.

President Maryam Rajavi, the leading exiled Iranian opposition figure of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, who has spent the past thirty years trying to replace the Iranian regime with a secular democratic government, addressed a conference in Berlin last Saturday to lay down her plans for the future of Iran, to “establish freedom and democracy at any price.”

Rajavi told the conference that, “The Barbarism that kills people for attending demonstrations must end.” On the type of the future government in Iran she said, “The Iranian people want a pluralistic republic,” and that, “They want to choose all officials by their own direct vote.”

Rajavi also highlighted the importance of separation of religion from government and promised that freedom of religion will be respected in the future Iran and “No religion will have advantage over any other.”

On the subject of the MEK designation Rajavi criticized past American administrations to have helped the survival of the Iranian regime by blacklisting the MEK. “A policy that has continued in the current administration as well,” complained President Rajavi.

Another speaker at the conference was former European Commissioner, Gunter Verheugen. Referring to recent developments in the Arab world, he said, “Democracy and human rights are not demands specific only to the people in the West,” and uprising in Iran proved that, “The quarrel is not between Islam and Western Democracy but it is between freedom loving people and those who oppress them.” In these circumstances, he added, “The best representative of oppressed people is that country’s democratic opposition.” He concluded, “The rulers in Tehran have no right to speak for Iran,” and pointing to president Rajavi, Gunter continued, “As those who resist them, truly represent the Iranian people. “

Rejecting MEK terrorist allegations, Gunter remembered Nelson Mandela and the ANC in South Africa, “They labeled him a terrorist for many years. “

At the Conference speakers seemed to agree that a firm policy towards Iran and a serious sanctions regime along with delisting of the MEK from the US FTO list would show a new approach towards these developments.  Some called for official recognition of the MEK and the National Council of Resistance of Iran as a legitimate resistance movement and an alternative to dealing with the Iranian regime.

“We must recognize a democratic provisional government. We do not recognize any governments in Iran right now,” Said Howard Dean, former head of Democratic Party and 2004 US presidential candidate. “I propose that we do recognize a government in Iran.  You have just heard from the president.” He continued refereeing to Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.

Former Congressman, Patrick Kennedy, called for the repeal of the MEK listing as a terrorist organization as it “only serves the current regime.”

General Peter Pace, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Bush administration, noted that from what he knows and can understand, “the MEK should not be titled a terrorist organization.”  He also referred to an obstacle that he did not fully understand that kept the MEK on the FTO list.  He called for an open discussion to resolve the issue.

“The enemy is not the MEK,” said General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during Clinton administration, “The enemy is the current regime in Iran,” he continued and stressed that the current regime in Iran has to be dealt with as it “attempts to impost control over the entire region.”  He described the current Iranian regime to be the “largest exporter of terrorism in the world,” which is seeking nuclear capabilities and criticized the listing of the MEK as it “weakened the support of the best organized internal resistance movement to counter a terrorist oriented, anti-Western world, anti-democratic regime in the region.”

Other participants in the conference included, former FBI Director, Louis J. Freeh, State Department’s Policy Planning Director, Mitchell Reiss, and former Attorney General, Michael Mukasey.