EP Vice President: Urgent Call on Mrs. Clinton regarding a US diplomat’s statements against Ashraf residents

Public Statement by ISJ   25 July 2011
 
 The International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ) considers statements by US Diplomat Mr Lawrence Butler to New York Times of July 23rd and his attitude towards the lives of 3,400 defenceless and unarmed Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf as despicable, shocking and serving the bidding of the totalitarian regime ruling Iran. ISJ calls on the U.S. Secretary of State to take the necessary action to prevent another massacre of Ashraf residents.

Mr Butler’s statements in the New York Times’ article ‘Iranian Exile Group Poses Vexing Issue for U.S. in Iraq’ are loopsided and biased assertions against Ashraf residents that ostensibly open the way to a new attack.

In disregard for all customary principles, Mr Butler took the newspaper reporter with him to his sixth negotiating session with Ashraf leadership hiding his true identity and introducing him as an embassy employee in his delegation! Nowhere does this article, seemingly a report on the negotiations, mentions the arguments and statements of the other side in the discussion which are the Ashraf residents; it is as if Mr Butler had been negotiating with a brick wall. In his dirty stage-setting, the reporter called the office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in Paris a day prior to the publication of his appalling article and got his answers with sufficient supporting documents and evidence, but nowhere in his article those responses were mentioned.

Mr Butler attempts to depict Ashraf residents as:
A group of extremist terrorists unwilling to leave a camp that they have illegally usurped in Iraq. Therefore, they are forced by the Iraqi army to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and obey the orders of the legitimate civil authority in the country. If they resist and there are casualties, it is PMOI’s fault for being obstinate and irrational.

Mr Butler likes to shape world opinion in such a way that everyone would be satisfied that the next assault is the outcome of a conflict between the Iraqi army and a terrorist Iranian group and not, as it is the case, as a brutal attack of an armed force against unarmed civilians.

The attitude of Mr Butler in this interview is so hostile towards Ashraf residents that one thinks his principle objective is to appease the Iranian regime; a regime that just recently has been responsible for the killings of 15 U.S. troops in Iraq with weapons that purposefully carry the phrase: “Made by Defence Ministry of Islamic Republic of Iran.”
 
It is worth asking: In which one of the important and international challenges, be it in Asia, Europe or the Latin America, where U.S. diplomats are mediating and conducting negotiations, do they appear so hostile to one of the parties?
 
The unprofessional and lowly political level and the groundless information of the aforementioned statements are such that renders them unworthy of any attention. However, since the publication of such statements, given the brittle situation in Camp Ashraf, including the presence of ready armoured Iraqi forces inside the Camp with their weapons pointing at defenceless civil residents, can in fact work to encourage another massacre, the ISJ deems it as its responsibility to enlighten the public opinion about the following facts:

1- A few weeks after the 8 April 2011 massacre, while the world was pointing fingers at the U.S. for not living up to its obligations towards Ashraf residents, and while according to the advice of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and many other international bodies an extensive campaign had been initiated in Europe to transfer Ashraf residents to third countries, suddenly, Mr Butler, with a press release, not in his name of course, heralds a new plan that looks to forcibly relocate the residents inside Iraq. In that press release he attempts to change the place of victim and henchman by depicting the leadership of the PMOI as the party that, because of political considerations, gives no heed to the lives of Ashraf residents (Reuters – May 5, 2011).

Although from the outset it was quite apparent that Mr Butler has a political rather than a humanitarian agenda, residents of Ashraf entered into negotiations with him in goodwill and with full cooperation declaring that they are prepared for any flexibility, set aside surrender to the mullahs’ regime. However, in his seven meetings in Ashraf, Mr Butler demonstrated that his mission is not one to save the lives of 3400 innocent people, but to relocate Ashraf residents to an unknown location and the dismantlement of the PMOI, which is the very demand of the dictatorship ruling Iran. Of course, whether Mr Butler wants it or not, inherent in this plan is the mass murder of Ashraf residents; since rightfully Ashraf residents will never give in to such a dishonouring solution.

Methods of Mr Butler, from the outset, gave away his objectives. As an example, a few days prior to his first visit to Ashraf, contrary to all customary traditions, he had appeared in a meeting between the leadership of the Camp and Deputy to Special Representative of UN Secretary-General for Iraq without disclosing his identity and depicting himself as a simple UN employee!!

2- During the final days of April, the European Parliament presented its plan for transfer of Ashraf residents to third countries. The leadership of Ashraf residents performed a difficult and admirable task in convincing the residents to forgo their rights and accept this plan to move them from their residence of 25 years. This plan was hailed and gained the consent of Baroness Ashton, Chief of EU Foreign Affairs, and the support of many parliaments worldwide with a number of EU Member States’ Foreign Ministers showing their acquiescence. In addition, inside Iraq itself, Speaker of the Parliament, Deputy President, Deputy Prime Minister, a number of Ministers, and the al-Iraqiya coalition, winner of country’s last parliamentary election, supported the plan.

3. Nevertheless, when faced with dubious insistences of Ambassador Butler for relocation inside Iraq, the Ashraf residents’ leadership announced that relocation inside Iraq would expedite and facilitate massacre and repression of the residents and it would be acceptable only if the U.S.  officially undertakes the residents’ protection in the new place.

At the same time, the Camp leadership presented six alternative plans to him.  The plans cover a range of solutions- from protection under UN supervision in Ashraf to transfer to another location under U.S. direct protection, to temporary settlement in neighbouring countries, and to mass and supervised transfer to the U.S. until another third country is sought.

4. In a letter to Mr Butler on 16 July 2011  on behalf of Ashraf residents, Ms Mojgan Parsaei, while giving a detailed explanation on the trend of these negotiations, presented to Ambassador Butler once again all the agreements accepted by Ashraf residents as well as the ‘six plans’. In that letter, she took a step further than above plans and announced Ashraf residents’ readiness for the camp to be placed under the supervision of the UNHCR and UNAMI. That letter portrays a full picture of extraordinary good intention and flexibility of Ashraf leadership.
 
At the same time, it raises this basic question as to why the U.S. Embassy does not accept any of them when most of them, if not all, are easily practicable by the U.S.
 
5. Remarks by Ambassador Butler are at the time that:

– On 2 July 2011, by signing a statement, 525,000 Diyala citizens (all above 18 with available and specific names and addresses) have called for protection of Ashraf residents by the United Nations and consider displacement of Ashraf residents in Iraq a preparation for their massacre. They have strongly supported the European Parliament’s proposal, its preconditions and requirements.
 
– On July 7, 2011, in paragraphs 49 and 66 of the report to the Security Council, Ban Ki Moon, United Nation’s Secretary-General, has addressed the issue of Ashraf. He has also stressed: “I therefore encourage all stakeholders involved to increase their efforts to explore options and seek a consensual solution that ensures respect for Iraq’s sovereignty while also being consistent with international human rights law and humanitarian principles. To this end, I call upon Member States to help to support and facilitate the implementation of any arrangement that is acceptable to the Government of Iraq and the camp resident”. These points clearly distance from the issue of displacement inside Iraq and are in accordance with the third country proposal.
 
-On 11 July 2011, Spanish National Court reiterated in a writ the fact that Ashraf residents are “protected persons” based on the Fourth Geneva Convention and initiated an investigation against Prime Minister Maliki, Ali Ghaidan, Commander of the Iraqi Ground Forces, and a number of other Iraqi senior officers for April 8 massacre. According to the principle of universal justice, Maliki should appear before the Court once his premiership term is over.

-On July 12, 2011 , in a session in European Parliament in Brussels, Osama Al-Nujeifi, speaker of Iraqi Parliament said: “An independent committee has to investigate the attack. We support the European solution of resettling the residents in third countries and if they can be transferred to Europe, it will be a logical solution. A plan proposed by the Americans to displace them inside Iraq has been rejected by all parties and we regard it unacceptable and we back the solution of third countries.”

-On July 22, 2011, the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, unanimously approved an amendment to the State Department’s Budget bill, based on which the U.S. should ”take all necessary and appropriate steps in accordance with international agreements to support the commitments of the United States to ensure the physical security and protection of Camp Ashraf residents; and take all necessary and appropriate steps to prevent the forcible relocation of Camp Ashraf residents inside Iraq and facilitate the robust presence of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq in Camp Ashraf”.
 
Is the publication of Ambassador Butler’s statements a reaction to the grave failure of an unjustifiable plan which is not supported by the United Nations, the U.S. Congress and different parties in Iraq (except for those affiliated with the Iranian regime)? Does Mr Butler really expect the residents of Ashraf to accept such a plan?

6. On May 20, 2011, together with Mr Morten Hoglund, member of Norwegian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee with whom I last visited Ashraf, we wrote in a letter to the U.S. Ambassador to Norway a copy of which we sent to Mr Butler as well:

 “All our experience with the Iraqi government and the influence of the Iranian regime on this government, our information from within the Iranian regime, plus continuous violation of all of the written and unwritten guarantees given by the Iraqi government to the United States on Ashraf residents leaves no doubt that any displacement of Ashraf residents within Iraq would only result in their massacre on a bigger scale and the creation of a new Auschwitz. Displacement is in no way a solution. Perils of such displacement are also clear to the U.S. officials. For example Mr Jeffrey Feltman, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State in a hearing at the House of Representatives on October 28, 2009 stated that “An Iraqi desire to move Camp Ashraf to some place else inside Iraq could lead to bloodshed. So, believe me, Congressman, we’re on top of this all the time.
 “
In any case, even when we talk about displacement within Iraq, who is going to provide the protection for the new location? Will it be forces under the command of Nouri al-Maliki, the U.S. forces, or forces from the UN? If we are talking about Maliki’s forces, there is no doubt in their intentions to massacre the Ashraf residents. And if we are talking about the U.S. or UN forces, then why this is not being officially declared? Additionally, if the U.S. and the UN are assuming this responsibility, then providing protection in Ashraf is more practical than anywhere else…”

While the above reasoning have been presented in several negotiations and letters to the U.S. State Department and U.S. Embassy and now their plan has been rejected at international level, Ambassador Butler’s persistence on that highlights the question that existed about this plan.
 
7. On June 30, 2011, Azzaman International daily wrote: “After returning from Iran, Iraqi President informed the US Ambassador in Baghdad of a message from Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei that closing down camp Ashraf is the first step for resolving some of the issues inside Iraq.”
On July 21 Philo Dibble, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, expressed his readiness for negotiation with Ahmadinejad and “any person sent by the Islamic Republic for negotiations”. (Voice of America-Persian language-July 21)
On July 22, the Foreign Minister of the Iranian regime, Ali Akbar Salehi, said: “We are ready for normalizing the relations with the U.S. but based on equal conditions and without any preconditions.”
 
Under such conditions, Ambassador Butler’s allegations strengthen this presumption that some parties may have found Ashraf residents an appropriate target to victimize. Is it not a remembrance of the dirty deal with the Iranian regime in 2003 that led to the bombardment of Ashraf and killing and injury of a big number of its residents, while Ashraf residents had not shot even a single bullet?
 
From the political point of view, this approach is very harmful, and morally it is very wrong. There is no doubt that destroying Iranian Resistance, which is a strategic counterweight vis-à-vis the fundamentalism conducted from Tehran, would double the problems of the U.S. and the West both in Iraq and Iran.

We believe it is quite harmful for the Ashraf residents to continue negotiations with Mr Butler. We advise them to refrain from continuing such talks until Mr Butler makes an official apology.  Making apology is the least a dignified diplomat could do in such conditions.

Accordingly, on behalf of the International Committee in Search of Justice (ISJ), I urge Secretary Clinton and the State Department to strongly support the notion of Ashraf residents’ resettlement in third countries. This response is essential for the U.S. prestige and means keeping aloof from a possible scandal.  As the United State loyal friends and allies, we do not want responsibility of the bloodshed of 3,400 Iranian dissidents, including 1,000 women many of whom, like those massacred on April 8th, are at their prime of life; go down in the name of the U.S.
 
Alejo Vidal-Quadras MEP
President of international committee In Search of Justice (ISJ)
Vice President of the European Parliament

International Committee of In Search of Justice (ISJ) enjoys the support of over 4,000 parliamentarians throughout the world

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