Thursday, March 24, 2005 | 03/17/2005 | Terrorist Tanter on Public Speaking Tour | 03/17/2005 | Expert on Iran: Subvert regime: "Expert on Iran: Subvert regime


A Middle East security expert who served in the Reagan administration said Wednesday that the United States needs to work with an Iranian opposition group that's now on the national list of terror organizations.

Raymond Tanter, who cofounded the newly formed Iran Policy Committee think tank, advocated what he called ''forceful diplomacy'' to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons.

Tanter spoke to about 25 people at the downtown Hyatt Regency in Miami as a guest of the Iranian Society of South Florida. The society is trying to raise its profile and to promote change in Iran, which is emerging as a Bush administration foreign policy priority.

The United States has not officially called for regime change in Iran. Nonetheless, Tanter said regular diplomacy will not prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons. Using a military strike against its nuclear facilities -- situated near population centers -- would kill too many civilians, he said.

''Work with the group that the regime dislikes the most,'' he said.

That's the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, known by the abbreviation MEK. The State Department in 1997, under President Bill Clinton, put the MEK on its terror list. Tanter said the move was an attempt to win favor with moderates in Iran.

The United States continues to hold thousands of the group's members in Iraq, under coalition supervision. MEK has been lobbying for legitimacy in Washington.

The State Department, according to The Associated Press, reported that Saddam Hussein funded MEK groups, that the MEK supported the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, and that it was responsible for the deaths of Americans in the 1970s.

Tanter said he has looked into reports about the MEK and has not found credible evidence that it is engaged in terrorism. He said leaving MEK on the terror list prevents the CIA from getting direct information from the group.

Still, the intelligence community uses back channels to gather ''superb'' tips from MEK, which have been verified through Israel and other sources, he said.

Bahman Badiee, president of the Iranian Society of South Florida, said most local Iranian Americans have family in Iran and would favor getting rid of the oppressive government but would not support a military attack.

The 2000 U.S. Census estimated that 3,152 residents of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties have Iranian ancestry. A 2003 estimate put that number lower, at 1,711."