Why Trump’s Hawks Back the MEK Terrorist Cult

(Photo by Siavosh Hosseini/NurPhoto via Getty Images) MEK leader Maryam Rajavi presiding over a rally in memory of the group’s members killed in Iraq in 2013, Tirana, Albania, September 1, 2017

On July 22, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to address an Iranian-American audience at the Reagan Presidential Library in California. The speech is part of a deliberate policy of escalating tensions with Iran, targeting its economy and supporting Iranian opposition groups—all for the purpose of pressuring and destabilizing Iran. At least one member of an Iranian terrorist group that has killed American citizens will also be in attendance. But it won’t be to disrupt Pompeo’s speech; rather, to support it. In fact, the member is on the invitation list.

Last month, the same terrorist group held an event in Paris, busing in thousands of young people from Eastern Europe to hear Donald Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani call for regime change in Tehran. A similar event in Paris last year was addressed by John Bolton, who recently became President Trump’s national security adviser.

How an organization that was only delisted by the US Department of State as a terrorist group in 2012 could so soon after win influential friends at the heart of America’s current administration is the strange and sinister story of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, better known by its initials, MEK. Commonly called a cult by most observers, the MEK systematically abuses its members, most of whom are effectively captives of the organization, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Regardless of its delisting by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—a political calculation on her part since many senior Democrats, as well as Republicans, had been persuaded by the MEK’s lavish lobbying efforts—the group has never ceased terrorizing its members and has continued to conduct assassinations inside Iran.

In the 1980s, the MEK served as a private militia fighting for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. Today, it has a different paymaster: the group is believed to be funded, in the millions of dollars, by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In Washington, D.C., as in Paris, France, the MEK pays tens of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to US officials. Bolton, in particular, is a long-time paid supporter of the MEK, reportedly receiving as much as $180,000 for his appearances at the group’s events.

The group is so awash with cash that it doesn’t just pay the speakers; it buys the audience, too. Those young Poles and Czechs who traveled to hear Giuliani’s speech on June 30 came not out of fascination with Trump’s lawyer but for the free weekend in Paris they were offered. The only thing the MEK’s money can’t buy is popular support among Iranians.

The MEK goes back a long way. Founded in the early 1960s, it was the first opposition group to take up arms against the repressive regime of the Shah. Its ideology was based on a blend of Marxism and Islamism, and the group enjoyed widespread support inside Iran in the 1970s. But a series of missteps saw its popularity dramatically dwindle. After the Shah was deposed, the group’s rivalry with Ayatollah Khomeini came to a head not long after the MEK opposed Khomeini’s decision to release the fifty-two American embassy staff held hostage by Iran, and instead, called for their execution. In fact, only a few years earlier, as part of a campaign targeting the Shah’s regime, the MEK assassinated three US Army colonels and three US contractors, in addition to bombing the facilities of several US companies.

Many of the MEK’s members fled to Iraq and established military bases with the blessing of Saddam Hussein. Siding with Saddam in that long and devastating war, which was estimated to have killed more than 300,000 Iranians, turned the MEK into traitors in the eyes of the Iranian public. Nothing has happened since then to change this view of the MEK inside Iran. But the more politically irrelevant the MEK became, the more extreme and cultish it got. After suffering a military defeat in 1988 in which it lost around 4,500 of its 7,000 fighters in a disastrous incursion into Iran, the MEK was in crisis. To prevent the organization’s collapse, its leader, Massoud Rajavi, intensified the cult-like character of the organization in order to prevent its members from defecting.

In 1990, all members of the organization were ordered to divorce and remain celibate. Their love and devotion should be directed only toward the leaders of the organization, Rajavi determined. To reinforce the leadership’s control, some eight hundred children of MEK members were sent abroad from their camp in Iraq to be adopted by exiled members of the group in Europe or North America. If the adult members tried to leave the MEK, they would completely lose touch with their children. To this day, there are scores of MEK members who dare not leave the terrorist group for this very reason. And there are countless children of MEK members who dream of one day being reunited with their parents. I know several of them.

The MEK’s human rights abuses have been well documented by human rights organizations. The MEK leadership has reportedly forced members to make taped confessions of sexual fantasies that are later used against them. In Iraq, disobedient members were routinely put in solitary confinement—in at least one case, for as long as eight years, according to HRW. Other members were tortured to death in front of their kin. As one US official quipped to me in 2011 when the organization was running its ultimately successful multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign to be removed from the State Department’s terrorist list: “Al-Qaeda actually treats its members better than the MEK treats its.”

The MEK, of course, rejects all accusations of terrorism and abuse. The group is not a cult, its advocates insist, but Iran’s strongest democratic opposition group in exile, which seeks a free and democratic Iran. Its members were not forced to divorce, a senior MEK official told the BBC in 2010. Rather, they all divorced their spouses voluntarily. En masse. And anyone who raises these accusations against the group is immediately branded a partisan for the theocratic regime in Tehran.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani at an MEK memorial event, New York, 2013

Given the MEK’s long record of terrorism, human rights abuses, and murder of US citizens, one would think that senior American officials like Giuliani, Pompeo, and Bolton wouldn’t go near the MEK, let alone fraternize with its members or take its fees. But when it comes to Iran, the usual rules don’t apply.

 

Even when the MEK was on the terrorist list, the group operated freely in Washington. Its office was in the National Press Club building, its Norooz receptions on Capitol Hill were well attended by lawmakers and Hill staff alike, and plenty of congressmen and women from both parties spoke up regularly in the MEK’s favor. In the early 2000s, in a move that defied both logic and irony, Fox News even hired a senior MEK lobbyist as an on-air terrorism commentator.

Al-Qaeda may treat its members better, but rest assured, neither al-Qaeda nor ISIS has ever rented office space in Washington, held fundraisers with lawmakers, or offered US officials speaking fees to appear at their gatherings. But the MEK did this openly for years, despite being on the US government’s terrorist list. The money that Maryam Rajavi (Massoud Rajavi’s wife, who has taken over leadership of the organization since Massoud’s mysterious disappearance in Iraq in 2003) offers to American politicians and the organization’s aggressive advocacy and lobbying only partly explain the group’s freedom of action at the heart of America’s political capital. Certainly, some politicians have likely been duped by the MEK’s shiny image, but Washington’s better-informed hawks are not duped; they simply like what they see, even at the risk of running afoul of federal ethics laws.

At the heart of this improbable-seeming affinity lies a sense of common interest between these anti-Iran fundamentalist, pro-war elements in Washington and Rajavi’s terrorist militia. The US hawks have no problem with the MEK’s terrorist capacities because the group’s utility is beyond dispute—after all, NBC reported that Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, relied on MEK operatives to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists during Iran and Israel’s secret dirty war between 2010 and 2012.

American officials, including the national security adviser, can have no illusions about the MEK’s disingenuous propaganda lines about seeking democracy or enjoying support inside Iran. They know very well how despised the MEK is in that country. Unlike other Iranian opposition groups, however, the MEK can mount military operations. Its members are experienced in sabotage, assassinations, and terrorism, as well as in guerrilla and conventional warfare. These are not qualities that lend themselves to any project of democratization, but are extremely useful if the strategic objective is to cause either regime change (by invasion) or regime collapse (by destabilization). In other words, for Washington’s anti-Iran hawks, the MEK doesn’t have to replace the theocracy in Tehran; it just needs to assist its collapse. The ensuing chaos would weaken Iran and shift the regional balance of power toward US allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

When my organization, the National Iranian American Council, campaigned against the delisting of the MEK in 2012, I gathered that some in Washington were uncomfortable with our position even though they had no sympathy for the group. They viewed the MEK as irrelevant and felt that resources should not be spent on fighting to keep the group on the list. Others feared the harassment that inevitably follows speaking up against the MEK. But we remained firm in our opposition and pointed out that if the MEK was taken off the list, the warmongers in Washington would be able to throw their full support behind the organization and use it to advance its policy of confrontation against Iran.

In 2012, my organization warned that the MEK was an Iranian version of the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition-in-exile to Saddam Hussein led by Ahmed Chalabi, which the neoconservatives in Washington tirelessly promoted in the early 2000s to provide grounds for going to war in Iraq. Sadly, it is now clear that our worries were warranted: the MEK’s greatest friends and allies in Washington—its paid advocates, in fact—now have the ear of a president who already tore up the multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran.

On May 5, just two weeks after he joined Trump’s legal team, Giuliani told an audience at a D.C. convention organized by an MEK front group that Trump was “committed to regime change.” The war party in Washington has its Iranian version of Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress.

This piece originally appeared in NYR Daily.

 

NCRI Holds Press Conference Using Google Maps and Guesswork

As the Trump administration has ratcheted up its rhetoric targeting the Iran nuclear deal and even ominously suggesting a broader confrontation, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) has begun to step up its own efforts in Washington.

Last week, following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s press conference where he suggested that the historic JCPOA (nuclear deal) was a failure and the Trump administration would not “pass the buck” on Iran to the next administration, the MEK held its own press conference rife with allegations of Iranian misconduct. The MEK, also known as the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), is a group of Iranian exiles that promote U.S.-led regime-change in Iran and was designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization until 2012. Its former base in exile, Camp Ashraf in Iraq, was consistently noted for its cult-like characteristics and inhumane treatment of members. Recruits were subjected to heavy psychological conditioning and were not allowed to leave the camp under any circumstances.  Married couples were forced to divorce lest their marriage stand in the way of their commitment to the MEK.

NCRI Deputy Director Alireza Jafarzadeh disclosed to the conference supposedly new discoveries regarding the Iranian government’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research. Specifically, he claimed to have uncovered a new development at the Parchin Research Academy to expand explosions and impact studies, allegedly for advancements in conventional or nuclear warheads.

While none of the information has been verified, the press conference emulated past discredited attempts by the MEK to present evidence of Iranian nuclear advances. In 2015, the group tried to pass off a picture of a bank safe from an Iranian company’s website for an “explosion-resistant door” allegedly part of the regime’s weapons-testing program. Friday’s report included Google Earth satellite imagery supposedly showing new construction at Parchin and low-quality photos of “newly-identified” directors of nuclear research.

Several media outlets were in attendance, though only a few asked questions. A Washington Post reporter asked about the lack of evidence given during the presentation of the findings and whether the NCRI had shared the information with the IAEA or members of US government.

Jafarzadeh responded that the current findings were “beyond the scope” of current IAEA intel and that the information had been shared with officials. When pressed for the date when information had been shared, he lackadaisically answered “a few days ago.”

The Trump administration, and groups like MEK, have recently reinvigorated efforts to claim the JCPOA will not prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb. This of course flies in the face of the assessments of the previous Obama administration, all of the United States’ European allies, as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that conducts inspections of Iran’s program.

Congress Sees the Light After Busy Week on Iran

Kerry sanctions hearingWashington, DC – Plans in the House to pass a resolution, backed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), opposing the interim Iran nuclear deal and calling for new sanctions have been defeated, according to Congressional sources. The resolution will not come up this week, which is the last week the House will be in session this year.  The Minority Whip, Steny Hoyer (D-MD) apparently withdrew his support for the measure on Thursday morning.

Further, plans to force a vote on new sanctions in the Senate appear increasingly unlikely, with key lawmakers rallying in support of the nuclear agreement in Iran and the administration mounting a strong defense.  

Despite representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) flying in this week to lobby Congress for new sanctions on Iran, it appears that Congress will conclude its business for the year without passing new sanctions or any rebuke of the historic nuclear agreement struck last month.

With sanctions blocked, at least temporarily, there will likely be a push in the weeks ahead for non-binding resolutions to define the endgame with Iran.  Additionally, any final deal with Iran will require sanctions to be lifted, which will likely require Congressional support.

Sanctions Stall in the Senate

Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew held a closed-door briefing with Senators yesterday warning them against new sanctions.  Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and David Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department, also testified before the Banking Committee on the nuclear deal.

During the Banking Committee hearing, Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) announced that he has a sanctions bill ready but will not move forward with it unless Iran violates the terms of the agreement. Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) had threatened to force a vote on their own sanctions bill that would bypass the normal committee process, but that scenario appears unlikely as more Senators speak out against new sanctions and in cautious support of the interim deal.  Sen. Menendez announced he was concerned about the administration’s thinking on the endgame and that he would consider moving forward with a non-binding resolution clarifying the Senate’s expectations for a final deal.

Noting that the President has said that new sanctions would not enhance his leverage for a final diplomatic deal, Chairman Johnson warned that “this may well be the last best chance to resolve this crisis by diplomacy.”  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also weighed in in support of the deal, arguing that it is a “promising first step” to further U.S. goals in the region.

Speaking on the floor of the Senate yesterday, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) delivered a strong defense of the deal and warned that new sanctions would threaten the deal and our ability to resolve the issue diplomatically.  Rockefeller asked his colleagues, “If there is any chance at all that new sanctions right now might disrupt that agreement, or jeopardize a future agreement – why on earth would we risk it?” 

Secretary Kerry Testifies in the House

Speaking before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, Secretary Kerry defended the deal in front of skeptical committee members, stating, “We’re at a crossroads, really hinge points, in history. One path could lead to an enduring resolution in the international community’s’ concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. The other path could lead to continued hostility and potentially to conflict—and I don’t have to tell you that these are high stakes.” 

Kerry rejected the notion that new sanctions would provide the U.S. more leverage in negotiations, saying it would threaten international unity and was unnecessary. “They know that if this fails, sanctions will be increased. We’ve said it 100 times. And you all have said it 100 times. And they know you’re yearning to go do it. But you don’t need to do it. It is actually gratuitous in the context of this situation, because you can do it in a week.” But, Kerry said, he doesn’t “want to threaten the unity we have with respect to this [diplomatic] approach, particularly when it doesn’t cost us a thing to go through this process knowing that we could put sanctions in place additionally in a week — and we would be there with you seeking to do it.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) both criticized the deal for not calling on Iran to abandon enrichment. But Kerry, who in the past criticized the Bush Administration’s “zero-enrichment” demand as “bombastic diplomacy,” explained that enrichment was not the issue. The U.S., he said, would secure “the best comprehensive agreement that absolutely guarantees that the program, whatever it is to be, is peaceful, and that we have expanded by an enormous amount the breakout time.” 

Kerry also indicated that negotiating for any further concessions would have meant that Iran’s nuclear program would continued to progress. The interim deal, he noted, “halts the progress and rolls it back in certain places for the first time in 10 years” and that “Iran will not be able to commission the Arak reactor during the course of this interim first-step agreement.”

Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) questioned why Congress could not pass additional sanctions at this time that would be triggered at a later date, which Kerry said would violate the interim agreement and fracture international efforts regarding Iran. “ Even if the sanctions are not imposed, it implies a lack of faith in the process and an unwillingness to play by the rules that our partners are playing by,” Kerry said. 

Representatives Ros Lehtinen, Ted Poe (R-TX), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) also brought up the status of Mujaheddin-E Khalq, who are residing in Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty in Iraq. Just as in previous hearings on Iran sanctions, members of the MEK were in the audience in their moniker matching yellow jackets. Rohrabacher said he is introducing legislation to allow MEK members to seek asylum in the United States. It is technically illegal for many MEK members to come to the U.S. because the group was designated as a terrorist organization, and attempts to resettle the individuals in third countries has been blocked in part because MEK leadership will not allow the group to be split up or for individuals to participate in the UN resettlement process.

A day after the hearing, a number of representatives took to the floor to defend the nuclear deal and warn against new sanctions, including Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), David Price (D-NC), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

 

 

 

Iran Nuclear Talks Media Advisory: NIAC Experts Available for Analysis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact:Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325tparsi@niacouncil.org
Reza Marashi, Research Director – 202.379.1639rmarashi@niacouncil.org
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director – 202.386.6408jabdi@niacouncil.org

Washington, DC and Geneva – Experts from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be available to media during and after nuclear negotiations between the United States, other members of the P5+1 and Iran in Geneva.

There are strong expectations that diplomats will strike a historic interim deal that would be a key step toward resolving the nuclear standoff. Now Congress must support rather than undercut U.S. negotiators. Despite President Obama’s call for Congress not to ratchet up sanctions yesterday, many in Congress are still pushing new sanctions that would undermine the President’s ability to strike a deal. 

NIAC analysts available in Washington, DC:

Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education efforts in support of non-military solutions to the U.S.-Iran standoff, advancing human rights in Iran, and protecting civil rights in the U.S. on behalf of the Iranian-American community. He monitors U.S. Government policy and is in close contact with the Administration and Congress. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York TimesCNNForeign PolicyThe HillThe Progressive and Public Service Europe, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributer in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC News and RT America. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi 

Trita Parsi, PhD is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007), for which he conducted more than 130 interviews with senior Israeli, Iranian and American decision-makers. Treacherous Alliance is the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Parsi’s new book A Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press) was released early 2012. He interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil—including the top American and Iranian negotiators—for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama’s early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations’ dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate.

Parsi’s articles on Middle East affairs have been published in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesFinancial TimesJane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem PostThe Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

NIAC analysts available in Geneva:

Reza Marashi is the Research Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and is on the ground for negotiations in Geneva.  He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk.  Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters.  His articles have appeared in The New York TimesForeign PolicyThe Atlantic, and the National Interest, among other publications.  He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets.  Follow Reza on Twitter: @rezamarashi 

Recent NIAC publications and media appearances:

“Iran Talks: Do We Want a Deal or a War?” CNN, November 8, 2013

“Serious Progress and a Familiar Road Map at Iran Nuclear Talks,” Al Jazeera, October 16, 2013

“Pushing Peace: How Israel Can Help the United States Strike a Deal With Iran – And Why It Should,” Foreign Affairs, October 1, 2013

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage.  NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.

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State Department Advises Senate to Hold Off Iran Sanctions Until After Negotiations

Wendy Sherman

Washington, DC – The top U.S. nuclear negotiator in UN Security Council negotiations with Iran urged the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday to hold off on further sanctions until new negotiations commence. Wendy Sherman, the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said delaying sanctions ahead of talks scheduled for October 15 and 16 in Geneva would give Iran the opportunity to to take “real actions” at the Geneva meeting. 

Many on the committee appeared skeptical and indicated they planned to consider new crippling sanctions despite positive signals from Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani. Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) was largely dismissive of Rouhani’s gestures, though he indicated he hopes concrete action will take place in Geneva. As for further sanctions, Menendez maintained that “as long as Iran is actively pursuing its nuclear program, we must actively work to increase the pressure.”

However, while the House passed a sanctions bill ahead of Rouhani’s inauguration in August, the Senate has yet to introduce its own version of the bill. It is all but certain that, given the government shutdown, new sanctions will not be introduced or considered before the Geneva talks. 

Some Senators were dismissive of any new negotiations. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) told Sherman that the U.S. must not negotiate with “evil liars.”  He challenged Sherman on what a deal with Iran would look like and whether the U.S. could “ever agree to ease sanctions in any negotiation that does not require Iran to abandon its enrichment and reprocessing capabilities.” Sherman refused to rule out a deal in which Iran retains enrichment—a point that many experts believe will be key to securing a verifiable solution but which is notably opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The position of the U.S. on enrichment is unclear—under President Bush, the U.S. refused to negotiate directly with Iran unless the enrichment program was first suspended. Secretary of State John Kerry, as a Senator in 2009, called the Bush position requiring zero enrichment, “ridiculous” and said Iran has “a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.” In 2011, then Secretary of State , Hillary Clinton signaled a shift from the Bush approach when she stated “[Iranians] can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations.”  

According to Sherman, a deal with Iran would realistically include limitations on the “pace and scope” of enrichment and greater transparency with regard to Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium. If Iran does not pass the “Geneva test”, she said, they should expect harsher sanctions—something Sherman says she and Secretary of State Kerry made clear to the Iranians following the U.N. general assembly. In terms of what a deal would look like, Sherman said that “the onus is on Iran” to clarify how far they are willing to go.

At least two dozen supporters of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) filled the hearing room, sitting behind the panel in matching yellow jackets emblazoned with pro-MEK slogans. Senator John McCain advocated for the MEK’s safety in Iraq, criticizing the U.S. for not protecting MEK members from deadly attacks that occurred in Iraq’s Camp Ashraf. Sherman expressed concern but also noted that the MEK’s leadership in Paris was obstructing the process to resettle MEK members. A key demand of the MEK’s leadership is that the group’s members be allowed to relocate together as a single unit, rather than to be relocated individually to different countries. Menendez interjected and told Sherman that the MEK should be invited to relocate to the United States.

 

 

 

Iran Elections Media Advisory: NIAC Experts Available for Analysis

 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Contact:
Trita Parsi, President – 202.386.6325, tparsi@niacouncil.org
Reza Marashi, Research Director – 202.379.1639rmarashi@niacouncil.org
Jamal Abdi, Policy Director – 202.386.6408jabdi@niacouncil.org 
 
 
Washington, DC – Experts from the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will be available to media before, during and after Iran’s presidential election for analysis of the internal political dynamics inside Iran; the implications for Iran’s pro-democracy and human rights movement; the considerations of policymakers inside the U.S. and implications for the nuclear issue; and the reaction of the Iranian-American community.  
 
 
 
 
On Friday, June 14, Iran will hold presidential elections that will have major implications for its domestic politics and relations with the outside world – including the nuclear standoff with the United States. Iran’s 2009 vote saw the mobilization of the pro-democracy “green movement” and massive demonstrations that plunged the country into chaos for months after allegations of a fraudulent Ahmadinejad victory. This year, authorities do not appear to be taking any chances, clamping down on dissent and disqualifying prominent pro-reform candidates. But Iran’s election promises to be full of surprises and shifting dynamics that will shape decision-making inside Tehran, as well as Washington’s calculations and options going forward.

Available NIAC analysts:

 
Jamal Abdi is the Policy Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC). He leads NIAC’s advocacy and education efforts in support of non-military solutions to the U.S.-Iran standoff, advancing human rights in Iran, and protecting civil rights in the U.S. on behalf of the Iranian-American community. He monitors U.S. Government policy and is in close contact with the Administration and Congress. He formerly served as Policy Advisor on foreign affairs, immigration, and defense issues in the U.S. Congress. Abdi has written for The New York TimesCNNForeign PolicyThe HillThe Progressive and Public Service Europe, and blogs at The Huffington Post.  He is a frequent guest contributer in print, radio, and television, including appearances on Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC News and RT America. Follow Jamal on Twitter: @jabdi 

Reza Marashi is the Research Director for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC).  He came to NIAC after four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.  Prior to his tenure at the State Department, he was an analyst at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) covering China-Middle East issues, and a Tehran-based private strategic consultant on Iranian political and economic risk.  Marashi is frequently consulted by Western governments on Iran-related matters.  His articles have appeared in The New York TimesForeign PolicyThe Atlantic, and the National Interest, among other publications.  He has been a guest contributor to CNN, NPR, the BBC, TIME Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Financial Times, among other broadcast outlets.  Follow Reza on Twitter: @rezamarashi 

 
Trita Parsi is the 2010 recipient of the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order. He is the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council and an expert on US-Iranian relations, Iranian foreign politics, and the geopolitics of the Middle East. He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States (Yale University Press 2007), for which he conducted more than 130 interviews with senior Israeli, Iranian and American decision-makers. Treacherous Alliance is the silver medal winner of the 2008 Arthur Ross Book Award from the Council on Foreign Relations.

Parsi’s new book Single Roll of the Dice – Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran (Yale University Press) was released early 2012. He interviewed 70 high-ranking officials from the U.S., Iran, Europe, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Brazil—including the top American and Iranian negotiators—for this book. Parsi uncovers the previously unknown story of American and Iranian negotiations during Obama’s early years as president, the calculations behind the two nations’ dealings, and the real reasons for their current stalemate.

Parsi’s articles on Middle East affairs have been published in the Wall Street JournalNew York TimesLos Angeles TimesFinancial TimesJane’s Intelligence Review, the Nation,The American Conservative, the Jerusalem PostThe Forward, and others. He is a frequent guest on CNN, PBS’s Newshour with Jim Lehrer, NPR, the BBC, and Al Jazeera. Follow Trita on Twitter: @tparsi

 
Recent NIAC publications and media appearances:
 
 
 
 
 

 

About NIAC

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the interests of the Iranian-American community. NIAC’s mission is focused on promoting an active and engaged Iranian-American community, supporting aspirations for human rights and democracy in Iran, opposing war between the US and Iran, and celebrating our community’s deep cultural heritage.  NIAC accomplishes its mission by supplying the resources, knowledge and tools to enable greater civic participation by Iranian Americans and informed decision-making by policymakers.

For more information, please visit niacouncil.org.

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Congress Debates War, Sanctions, Diplomacy and MEK with Top Obama Officials

Washington, D.C. – On Wednesday, the House and Senate held hearings on Iran policy with top administration officials Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary of Political Affairs at the U.S. State Department, and David S. Cohen, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Treasury Department.  

Most legislators participating in the hearings called for maximal sanctions, increased military threats, and even cutting off negotiations entirely.  Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there is still time for diplomacy, but the United States needs to look closely at enhancing “military pressure” on Iran, while seeking to “convince the Supreme Leader that his continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is threatening the very existence of his regime.”  Menendez later seemed to back away from those comments, indicating that one of our major challenges is to convince the Supreme Leader that this is a legitimate, global effort to change Iran’s behavior, not Iran’s regime. 

For his part, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), warned of the limitations of sanctions and the need for smarter diplomacy, saying policymakers should “derive some lessons” from the history of when sanctions have worked in the past. ”Iran is not likely to back away from a nuclear program because the U.S. sanctions were so successful that [they] were forced to do it,” he said. “Backing away for that kind of reason would mean a complete loss of internal political legitimacy.  So they have to have a reason to back away from a nuclear program other than ‘O.K., the U.S. beat us.’” 

“If it’s a game of arm wrestling,” Kaine argued, “they’re not going to admit that they lost.” Kaine asked Amb. Sherman ”how creative are you being about not just, ‘we’ll let up on the sanctions’, but other things that would enable internal face-saving?” He pointed out that a critical part of any negotiation is not to “completely paint your opponent into a corner from which they have nothing to do but aggressively come out fighting.”

Sherman defended the current approach, pointing out that at the last meeting Iran had readily acknowledged that they wanted significant sanctions relief in a nuclear deal.  However, she said the sanctions relief that was offered by the U.S. and its partners could be described as “not significant, but meaningful.”

Increasing Sanctions

In the House, where a new sanctions bill will be considered next week by the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) called repeatedly for “pedal to the metal” sanctions. He argued that the U.S. could sanction Iran while negotiating, but oddly cited the U.S. sanctions approach to Germany during World War I that presaged the rise to power of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis. “In 1918, we negotiated with the Kaiser’s Germany while not only sanctioning but also waging all-out war.”  

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed that there must be some point where the U.S. abandons diplomacy, a point echoed by many others who appeared concerned that talks could be used as a delaying tactic for Iran to advance its nuclear program.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) questioned the administration’s stance that all options remain on the table, and asked if the United States would be willing to attack Iran with nuclear weapons or to execute an Iraq-style ground invasion.  Amb. Sherman demurred. However, under the current U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, the United States would consider a first-strike nuclear attack on nations that are not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or are in violation of its terms.

Humanitarian Blockage

Secretary Cohen attempted to defend the sanctions from criticism that they are blocking humanitarian goods, including food and medicine, from reaching the Iranian people despite exemptions for those goods.  Cohen placed sole blame on Iran’s government for medical shortages in the country.  His statement did not acknowledge criticism from experts at the Wilson Center and Atlantic Council that have found that sanctions on all of Iran’s international banks, and their chilling effect on third party banks, are a major source of medical shortages in Iran. 

According to Cohen, “[w]hatever shortages may exist, and whatever reluctance foreign banks may have to process transactions, the root cause is not our sanctions programs, it is the actions of the Iranian government.” Cohen said that the U.S. has a sanctions exemption for medicine, but due to Iranian subterfuge on its financial transactions, it is “entirely understandable that foreign banks that maintain relationships with Iranian banks may nonetheless be wary about facilitating otherwise permissible transactions.”   Cohen thus appeared aware that the banking channel for humanitarian transactions are disrupted by sanctions, but proposed no changes to ensure that humanitarian goods can reach Iran.

MEK

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) conveyed his support for the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) a group, which is widely opposed by Iranians and viewed by human rights organizations as a cult. The group has been actively lobbying the House to pressure the administration to move MEK members back to the group’s paramilitary base at Camp Ashraf, Iraq.  Late last year, as part of what was widely viewed as a deal with the State Department to get the group removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, the MEK agreed to leave the base and relocate to Camp Liberty, also in Iraq, where they would then work with the UN to repatriate members in third countries. In a heated exchange with Rep. Rohrabacher, who called for the U.S. to support the MEK, Amb. Sherman expressed her concern that the people at Camp Liberty were being exploited by the MEK’s leadership. “There are opportunities for the people of Camp Liberty to resettle.  There have been offers made by countries like Albania to take many of them,” she said.  “And to be very frank Congressman, the leadership of the MEK, both in Camp Liberty and in Paris, have kept the people of Camp Liberty from knowing what their options are.  And I so care about their lives, and the threat to their lives in the camp, that I hope the leadership of the MEK will allow them to know their options.” 

This follows on the heels of testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry in April indicating that MEK members in Camp Liberty had ceased participating in interviews with officials to determine where best to relocate them. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have documented human rights abuses inflicted by MEK leadership against members who questioned their authority or sought to leave the camps.

 

 

 

You’re Invited: Dallas Women for World Peace Panel & Iranian-Israeli Peace Dialogue

Please join NIAC’s Dallas Ambassadors for two exciting upcoming events this Saturday, May 4:

“A World of Women for World Peace” 

Featured Panelists:Nazanin Boniadi, Actress, Official Spokesperson for Amnesty International USARonny Edry, Israeli Peace Activist, Graphic Designer, teacherDr. Hind Jarrah, Executive Director of Texas Muslim Women’s Foundation

Hosted by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson

Saturday, May 4, 2013 10am-12:30pm Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas 2200 N. Pearl Street Dallas, TX 75201

RSVP Required: Shirin.Tavakoli@mail.house.gov or (214)922-8885 

“Advancing Peace Between Iranians and Israelis”

A Lecture by Ronny Edry, Israeli Graphic Designer, Peace Activist, and Founder of Israel <3 Iran

Hosted by NIAC’s Dallas Ambassadors, Iranians for Peace and Justice (IPJ), and SMU Amnesty International (AI)

Saturday, May 4, 20136:30 – 7:30 PM

Southern Methodist University (SMU)Hughes Trigg Auditorium3140 Dyer Street Dallas, TX 75205

Questions? Please email Morteza “Tony” Saki at tonysaki@gmail.com

ronny.jpg

Please click here to see Ronny Edry’s TED talk.


 

مردم ایران و اسرائیل دوستان یکدیگرند

با هم در گفتمان “رادنی ادری” شهروند اسرائیل و دوست مردم ایران

شرکت کنیم. سخنی از صلح و دوستی، در این زمانه که سیاست مداران بر طبل جنگ میکوبند

Southern Methodist University (SMU)

Hughes Trigg Auditorium- 3140 Dyer Street Dallas, TX 75205

شورای ملی ایرانیان آمریکا (نایاک)، سازمان عفو بین الملل، انجمن ایرانیان صلح دوست

 

 

 

 

Congressman Urges U.S. to Foment Ethnic Tension in Iran

 

Rohrabacher RajaviYesterday, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), introduced a new resolution redoubling his efforts to promote ethnic separatism in Iran.

The idea of fomenting ethnic tensions in Iran as a means to destabilize the country is not a new one. Rohrabacher, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, has never been shy about promoting ethnic separatism and supporting violent groups as a way to pressure Iran. In addition to his support for groups like Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), he has championed resolutions promoting Azeri and Balochi ethnic separatism in Iran.

His new resolution, H.Res.183, would push the Broadcasting Board of Governors to beam news broadcasts in Azeri and Baloch languages into Iran and its border regions with Pakistan to promote ethnic tensions.

Rohrabacher’s intentions are clear. Last year he sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which he stated that, “Aiding the legitimate aspirations of the Azeri people for independence is a worthy cause in and of itself. Yet, it also poses a greater danger to the Iranian tyrants than the threat of bombing its underground nuclear research bunkers.”

>>Take Action: Tell Congress to Oppose H.Res.183

According to reports, the intended purpose of this letter was to capitalize on the opportunity provided by news stories at the time concerning a budding military cooperation between Israel and the Azerbaijan Republic. “It would be wise for the United States to encourage such cooperation, as the aggressive dictatorship in Tehran is our enemy as well as theirs,” Rohrabacher wrote to Clinton.

He is also one of the top supporters of the MEK, and detractor of the Green Movement. He was a major driver of the effort to remove the mujaheddin from the terror list, while acknowledging their use of violence to achieve political goals. “I will have to admit, the thing that attracts me to this movement is that it is willing to fight,” Rohrabacher said ahead of the MEK’s delisting. “It won’t just be pacifists.”

There are other violent movements, such as the Sunni militant Jundallah – designated in 2010 as a Foreign Terrorism Organization by the United States – which will undoubtedly benefit from this type of continued effort Rohrabacher is championing to foment ethnic tensions in Iran, particularly in the volatile Sistan-Baluchistan regions bordering Pakistan, which is the intended purpose of Congressman Rohrabacher’s latest resolution.

It should also be noted that Mr. Rohrabacher does not fail to mention, as an added incentive to support H.Res.183, the vast natural resources and the strategic importance of the border region between Iran and Pakistan. “Whereas it is believed the area inhabited by the Baloch people holds a large reserve of oil, natural gas, gold, and other minerals and comprises 1,000 miles of strategically significant coast line from the Persian Gulf and along the Arabian Sea.”

>>Send a letter to your Representative to tell them to oppose this resolution

 

 

 

RT: Analyzing Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly

An Iranian group called MEK has been removed from the US government’s terrorist list. The group is responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians in the 1970s and it has also been linked to using terroristic violence against Iran. So why isn’t this group considered a terrorist one anymore? NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi joins RT’s Kristine Frazao to talk more about the State Department decision.

 

 

 

HuffPost Live: Iranian Group Will Be Taken Off Watch List

The State Department announced they will remove the Iranian dissident group MEK from their list of terrorist organizations. Has the group abandoned their violent past? HuffPost Live discusses the MEK’s delisting with Hooman Majd, NIAC’s Nobar Elmi, and other analysts.

The State Department announced they will remove the Iranian dissident group MEK from their list of terrorist organizations. Has the group abandoned their violent past?  HuffPost Live discusses the removal with Hooman Majd, NIAC’s Nobar Elmi, and other analysts.

 

 

 

RT: Iranian MEK Group Off Terrorist List

 

An Iranian group called MEK has been removed from the US government’s terrorist list. The group is responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians in the 1970s and it has also been linked to using terroristic violence against Iran. So why isn’t this group considered a terrorist one anymore? NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi joins RT’s Kristine Frazao to talk more about the State Department decision.