By David Alton
THE HILL – In a cross-Atlantic conference on Iran in Brussels, a bipartisan group of senior former U.S. government officials from the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations, joined by prominent members of the European Parliament, articulated this new approach.
The first step, they argued was for the U.S. to remove the principal Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin (PMOI/MEK) from its list of terrorist groups. The participants also called for urgent action to protect the 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq, PMOI members who are protected persons under the Fourth Geneva convention but who are under constant threat by the Iraqi government at the behest of Tehran. Our failure to do this was an issue which I raised in the British Parliament this week.
“The Iranian people are not alone in suffering. The legitimate concern for all people in Camp Ashraf, in the Iraqi pledges to the United States for the safety and security, needs to be recognized and revitalized…,” said Gen. James Jones, who until October was Obama’s National Security Advisor. Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton, agreed: “It does make sense to delist the PMOI/MEK as a terrorist organization. There is no terrorist link. There is no capability, no intent … America needs to follow the lead of the European Union and the European Parliament.”
According to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey “It is important that the designation be removed, before Iran and those acting on its behalf can wear down the residents of Ashraf and force them to leave, or impose even worse fate on them.” And Dr. Vidal Quadras, vice president of the European Parliament said, “Appeasement only provides the regime with time to continue its spread of terrorism across the world and come closer to a nuclear weapon.”
While highlighting the central role the main Iranian opposition PMOI/MEK will have to play in any future policy towards Iran, John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN underscored that “the policy of the United States must unequivocally be the overthrow of the regime in Tehran.”
And Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, emphasized, “Religious dictatorship in Iran must end. This could be achieved neither with war nor through appeasement. The solution is the third option: democratic change by the Iranian people and the Resistance.”
After two more years of futile negotiations, Tehran’s fist remains as clenched as ever. So, as President Obama underscored in his inauguration speech, the time has come to put aside the recrimination and worn-out dogma that for too long has strangled US Iran policy. The policy should not be limited to choices of engagement or bombing.
Let’s us send a new and important message to freedom-seeking Iranians that the world is on their side; let us allow Iranian dissidents to take center stage in Iran policy.
With that fulcrum, all other elements of a firm policy, including tightening sanctions would fit in place.
David Alton: Lord Alton of Liverpool, a crossbench member of the UK’s House of Lords, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.