Thursday, January 06, 2005

Raymond Tanter Strongly Defends the Mujahedin-e Khalq in an article

Baghdad Bulletin - Independent Iraq news: "A Middle East moment: regime change in Iran
By: Raymond Tanter (guest writer)

Published date: 24/6/2003

email this article to a friend

The rout of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the collapse of the rogue regime in Baghdad and student demonstrations in Iran provide a policyforcing moment to shift Washington's policy toward Tehran. Military victories altered the strategic landscape in the Middle East: coalition troops can deploy along Iran's eastern and western flanks and to the east of Syria, isolating Iran within the region. At issue is whether Washington should seek only diplomatic gains from Iran following this shift or make an effort at regime change from within. While regime change for Iraq was the official policies of Presidents Clinton and Bush, neither adopted regime change as policy for Iran. Now is the time for the Bush administration to seize the Middle East moment to facilitate regime change in Iran.

Aiding student protestors and assisting the Iranian opposition are two ways the administration might stimulate regime change. Besides offering strong rhetorical support, the US could begin covert backing of student demonstrators and remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq, Iran's strongest opposition group, from the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. This would allow the opposition to raise funds in the US from the Iranian exile community and provide overt US government funding to a coalition of Iranian opposition groups. In this respect, Senator Sam Brownback's Iran Democracy Act is a promising vehicle to facilitate regime change in Iran.

Give Rhetorical and Covert Support for Student Demonstrators

Because the White House so far has avoided taking a position on the Brownback amendment, now is the time for Congress to press the Administration to go beyond public rhetoric to furnish material assistance to demonstrators and Iranian opposition groups. President George Bush praised pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran, calling their protests a positive step toward freedom. Though some argue that such praise could lead to backfiring because Iranians might view Bush's words as foreign meddling, it is well worth the effort to be on the side of the students. Ayatollah Khamenei is already accusing the US of fomenting the protests; hence, Washington might as well ramp up its rhetoric and initiate covert ops to assist the students.

White House statements of December and July 2002 criticized the "unelected few" rulers of Iran, and Secretary of State Colin Powell has reinforced the these remarks, stating that the US goal is to speak directly to the Iranian people, "…over the heads of their leaders to let them know that we agree with them." But with Iranian vigilantes beginning to repeat their 1999 assaults against student protestors, more than rhetoric is necessary.

Remove People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran from Terrorist List

There are several reasons to remove the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list:

1.Classifying MEK as a terrorist organization at Tehran's request has not resulted in major diplomatic gains from Iran and encourages Tehran to continue policies that run counter to US interests.

2. Allegations that the MEK participated in the seizure of the American Embassy in 1979 are probably false, and in any event, are based on hearsay evidence.

3. MEK listing on the FTO inhibits US collaboration with the MEK for action against groups Iran sends to destabilize Iraq.

4. The regime in Tehran considers the MEK its primary security threat.
In a bid to engage Iran diplomatically, the Clinton administration took several steps. It designated the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization, declared that it would no longer use provocative terminology like "rogue states" to classify nations like Iran and North Korea, and made concessions to Iran on carpets, caviar, and pistachios, compromises Iran promptly pocketed without reciprocity. Because an engagement policy drove the terrorist classification, there is a substantial risk of misclassification of the MEK.

MEK is the only organization on the FTO list that US government officials acknowledged to have been designated as a goodwill gesture to Tehran. The bottom line is that designating the MEK as a terrorist organization:

1.Emboldens the regime in Tehran to pursue its policies of exporting terrorism, acquiring nuclear weapons, destabilizing the region, and suppressing the Iranian people.

2.Prevents fundraising for an organization whose activities further US goals of coercing Tehran to cease its drive for nuclear weapons, sponsorship of terrorism, and crackdown on student demonstrators.

Khalid Duran, an expert on Islam and the Middle East who has monitored the role of the MEK since the early 1970s, gave expert testimony in several court proceedings in which that organization challenged its designation. He stated that, "The (MEK) had no role in the US embassy takeover. In fact, the takeover was carried out by the faction most opposed to the (MEK). The MEK challenged its designation in the Federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Although it has not been successful in vacating the designation, court proceedings established only the diplomatic nature of the designation rather than one based on terrorist activities.

Without having the MEK as an ally with which to pressure Iran, the United States lacks a credible answer to Tehran's efforts to destabilize post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.

During the spring of 2003, Iran sent thousands of Badr Brigades troops, which are the military wing of an Iranian-based group, to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. It had been an anti-Saddam organization but its mission in the post-Saddam era includes destabilizing Iraq.

During a Pentagon briefing in late March, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued a stern warning to Iran for backing Iraqi exiles living in Iran who are members of the Badr Brigades. Rumsfeld criticized Tehran for allowing Brigade fighters to cross Iraq's eastern border. The April 15 cease fire between elements of the Fourth Infantry Division and the MEK in Iraq is a step in the right direction. The next step should be to allow the MEK to repossess weapons the US military is keeping in storage and for Secretary Rumsfeld to support the MEK as a counterweight to the Badr Brigades troops.

Washington should capitalize on the shift in the strategic landscape following its military successes in Afghanistan and Iraq to facilitate regime change in Tehran. Strong rhetorical support, covert-backing for student demonstrations, and removal of the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations List are steps that would facilitate regime change in Iran. Finally, because the Iran Democracy Act is a useful vehicle to fund a coalition of Iranian opposition groups, the Bush administration should consider supporting this legislation.

Raymond Tanter is an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C.

Published date: 24/6/2003
Author: Raymond Tanter (guest writer) "