John Bolton, at the World Summit 2021 on 12 July 2021


Ambassador John Bolton, former National Security Advisor of the United States

Hello from Washington, very glad to be with you. Even though virtually this year, because it’s an important time to discuss what’s happening in Iran and what the future of the regime in Tehran is. You know, the world, of course, is talking about the recent election. And I use that word in quotes of Ibrahim Raisi to be president. It’s clear that this election was neither free nor fair. It was Democratic. The candidates were carefully screened by the Guardian Council.

The debates and press were controlled. It was it was evident from the outset that Raisi was the supreme leader’s preferred candidate and they were going to take whatever steps were necessary to make sure that he was declared the winner. So no one should have been very surprised. And I think actually that kind of rigged election has a very negative impact on the perception of the regime around the world. The people of Iran who are certainly not deceived. And in effect, they boycotted the election. The lowest turnout since the revolution of 1979 and not just in Tehran, but around the country.

So I think when you couple that very low turnout with the rising level of protest in 2019 and 2020, again, all around Iran, it shows just how fragile the regime support is and how ultimately its survival depends on the Revolutionary Guards, not on popular support. The results of the election were rigged. And Raisi is an illegitimate president. Even more important, perhaps he’s not the supreme leader. In the West I think it’s misunderstood what exactly the president’s role is.

He’s not the equivalent of the American president and we shouldn’t treat him as such. I think that the one good news that comes out of this election is that race is not going to be the smiling face of the regime as Hassan Rouhani and Javad Zarif were. I think he reflects exactly what the mullahs in Tehran mean to do, both internally in Iran and internationally. And it’s really the international aspects I’d like to focus on here. I think the elevation of Raisi proves a number of very important points.

Most importantly, that there’s no moderation in the views of the regime or in their objectives around the world. I think you’re going to see a continuation and I fear even an increase in internal repression against the people of Iran and a continuation and even an increase in belligerence internationally in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon and in Yemen. These are the kinds of activities that show the real objectives of the regime in Tehran. It’s not peace and security in the region, its hegemony.

And we’ve seen through the arming of militia groups in Iraq in an effort to create a new Hezbollah in that country. The use of the Houthi rebels to attack civilian targets in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that the regime has no scruples, no intention of protecting innocent civilians against their attack. They are terrorists even when they engage in conventional military activity. And yet we’ve seen in the past couple of years in Europe and elsewhere increasing evidence that it is indeed the government of Iran itself, their diplomats, their officials who are directing and aiding terrorist activities, including the attack that we all remember against the Free Iran Rally of 2019, where we’ve actually seen the courts in Belgium convict an Iranian diplomat of terrorist activity.

That tells you much about the nature of the regime. This group understands that. But this is the kind of message that we have to get out to the wider world. The election, I think, of Raisi also proves that making concessions to the regime will not change their behavior. They don’t respond in a symmetric way. They don’t say, well, we’re getting more decent treatment from America or the Europeans that will respond in kind. I think they view that the concessions by the West as a sign of weakness and, you know, historically, it’s not strength that’s provocative when viewed by authoritarian regimes, weakness is provocative. So the more weakness we show, the more likely the ayatollahs will cause us trouble.

It seems to me this is the critical lesson that we face right now as we see President Biden and his administration desperately negotiating in Vienna to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, the JCPOA. This is a catastrophic mistake. The nuclear deal, as we all know, was, in effect, not a constraint on the ayatollahs’ desire to get nuclear weapons, but an incentive. They have taken advantage of it.

We know from the raid by the Mossad that lifted significant parts of the nuclear archive from a warehouse in Tehran that under the AMAD plan, the regime was pursuing a crash nuclear weapons program. They have done enormous amounts of research, all of which is now available to them to pick that program up in full view of the world if they choose. And we’ve also seen significant evidence of the clandestine efforts by the regime that are still unknown to the International Atomic Energy Agency and still unknown even to Western intelligence agencies.

The regime has not stopped its pursuit of nuclear weapons. They have not only not made a strategic decision to forego the pursuit of nuclear weapons. I think all of the evidences, they remain even more determined to continue to achieve that objective. Of course, the supreme leader and president-elect Raisi want the United States to rejoin the nuclear deal. They want relief from the US unilateral sanctions, which have had such a significant effect on the economy. But they are planning to do exactly what the regime did in 2015.

They will pledge to halt the nuclear weapons program in exchange for relief from the sanctions. And then when the money is unfrozen, when the trade has resumed, when the regime has reaped all of the benefits of the elimination of the sanctions, then the work on the nuclear program will simply continue. This is the playbook of regimes like Iran, like North Korea, and we shouldn’t expect anything different this time around.

I want to say here that the efforts of the MEK over the years to discover the secrets of the regime and its nuclear weapons program, its ballistic missile program, and making those pieces of information public have had a profoundly positive impact on the global debate about the threat posed by the regime.

Without many of those discoveries and very importantly, without making them public, people would not appreciate how dangerous the mullahs’ regime is and what a threat it poses, certainly at the nuclear level, but also at the level of terrorist support and conventional forces. So as we have a new administration in Washington, it’s fair to ask what should American policy be? My views on this have not changed since the first time I had the privilege of addressing this group almost 15 years ago.

We can say right now the United States should not reenter the JCPOA. It ought to continue efforts to expose the fallacies of that agreement and the dangers that it poses. The United States should not lift its economic sanctions. They should continue in place. And we should aid the people of Iran who are legitimate opponents of the regime, who seek nothing more than freedom and the opportunity to pick their own government and who seek a non-nuclear weapons future for Iran.

That is the role of the United States to support the legitimate opposition. And our declared policy, our declared objective, should be to overthrow the regime of the mullahs and replace it with a popularly elected government of the Iranian people. Thank you once again for being with you, and I hope next time it’ll be in person.