As policy-makers on both sides of the Atlantic continued to tear their hair at the Iran policy impasse, the clearest call yet for a viable approach to Tehran came over the weekend, not from Washington or London, but from Paris. According to Agence France Presse, “More than 70,000 supporters of Iran's opposition protested near Paris on Saturday,” June 28, to challenge Tehran's unabated nuclear drive and the escalating crisis between Iran and the international community.
They called on the United States and European Union to adopt a new approach toward the ayatollahs' regime by empowering the Iranian people in their struggle for a secular, democratic, and non-nuclear Iran. The Iranians from across Europe and North America rejected both a military invasion and preserving the status-quo, as at best ineffectual in resolving the current crisis.
The unprecedented gathering was held on the eve of France's assumption of the EU's rotating presidency, and just days after Gordon Brown's government removed the main Iranian opposition, the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) from the UK's list of banned organizations. Now the European Union must review its blacklisting of the MEK, since the EU's designation was based solely on the group's UK status.
The keynote speaker was Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of Iran's Parliament-in-exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Calling the blacklisting of Iran's most organized and largest democratic opposition “unjust,” she said: "The Iranian Resistance has never called on the US or any other country to send their sons and daughters to fight a war with the mullahs…If you stand with the Iranian people as they stand for liberty, then end the terrorist designation of their Resistance movement. This is a resistance with 120,000 martyrs lost to the cause of freedom. Do not deprive the world of the most effective counterweight to fundamentalism and terrorism."
Former House Majority Leader, Dick Armey also addressed the cheering crowd. He said: "We understand that it is the duty of governments to honor and protect freedom…It is my job to help members of the American government, people who have known nothing in their lives but the blessings of liberty, to understand that they have failed in their duty to protect liberty by listing this freedom-loving organization."
Media reports of the event went around the world. Voice of America described the crowd as “massive.” “Young and old packed a cavernous exhibition hall north of Paris, waving blue flags and cheering their support for Maryam Rajavi.”
The international flair of the VIP sections, in particular the Iraqi delegation, caught the journalists' attention. Sima-ye Azadi television news reported that the “nearly 1,000 parliamentarians and distinguished political, religious and cultural personalities as well as law experts” had come from Europe, the United States, Canada, and a half dozen Arab countries.
The Washington Times ran a front-page article, describing why Iraqi political figures and tribal leaders consider the Iranian opposition as “a bulwark against Tehran's interference in their country's affairs.” Quoting Sheik Matlab Ali Abbas al-Massari, president of the National Council of Tribes of Iraq, the Times said "the People's Mujahedeen (MEK) is the true friend of the Iraqi people.”
Sheik al-Massari stressed the group's role in battling Tehran's violent meddling in Iraq, which he said would be even more effective if the dissident group was removed from the US and EU blacklists. "They have a lot of restrictions because of this list... That's why we want this list to be revised so they will have more direct impact against Iranians (Tehran's agents) in Iraq."
Another influential tribal leader, Hawas Showkat Hassan, head of an anti-terrorist association in central Iraq, told the Times that "We have a common interest against Islamic fundamentalism and against Iran."
There was also a strong showing by Jordanians lawmakers, who included the Deputy Speaker Mamdouh Al-Abbadi, Chair of the parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs Mohammed Abouhodaib, and the majority leader Meflah Hamad Al-Rahimi. The Jordanian presence thumbed its nose at Tehran's claim of regional popularity. Seriously irked, the clerical regime immediately summoned the Jordanian ambassador in protest. Amman reacted with an implicit rebuke of Tehran for demanding that Jordan's executive branch interfere in the affairs of its legislative branch, This so angered the regime that, according to news reports, it expelled the Jordanian ambassador on Tuesday. Amman reciprocated shortly thereafter.
The delegation of British lawmakers included 15 members of both Houses, including Lord Waddington, former Home Secretary; Lord Corbett; and Baroness Gould, who had spearheaded the de-listing of the Iranian opposition in the UK. Lord Corbett, from the Labor Party, told Voice of America that "The sole reason the PMOI (MEK) is on the terrorist list was because the Mullahs made it the price of opening talks with Britain and the EU over their nuclear deceit.”
The message of the Paris event is clear. As former UK Home Secretary David Waddington told the International Herald Tribune, "now the PMOI can get on with its work,” which, in a nutshell, is to end Iran's nuclear weapons drive, destabilizing campaign in Iraq and hegemonic regional ambitions, by bringing about democratic change in Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.