Introductory remarks by Ambassador Mitchell Reiss, former Director of U.S. State Department Policy Planning and Special Envoy to the Northern Ireland Peace Process. He chaired a panel discussion on Iran entitled “Protests in Iran and the Role of the Opposition” in Paris, 29 June 2018, organized jointly by FEMO and APA. Participants in the panel included:
• Michael Mukasey, former U.S. Attorney General
• Louis Freeh, former Director of the FBI
• Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria
• John Baird, former Foreign Minister of Canada
• Struan Stevenson, Coordinator for Change in Iran, former President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq
• Yves Bonnet, former Governor and Head of France’s Internal Security Service (D.S.T.)
Remarks by Mitchell Reiss follow:
This evening, the panel discussion is on protests in Iran and the role of the opposition. We have a very distinguished panel, and I’ll be introducing our speakers in a moment. But I’ve been asked first to provide a few introductory comments on our topic. I thought it would be most useful to start by providing some historical perspective on where we are today at this particular moment in time by revisiting where we have been only a few short years ago and the significant progress that has been made by the democratic opposition to the regime in Tehran.
When I was first asked to become involved with this project, more than 3,000 members of the MEK were being held virtual prisoners in a camp inside Iraq, Camp Ashraf. The conditions there were oppressive… They were repeatedly threatened by members of the Iraqi government who were acting as proxies for the Iranian regime. And on at least three occasions, these unarmed defenseless people were brutally attacked and murdered by the agents of Iran. The survivors were subsequently moved to another camp inside Iraq, the misnamed Camp Liberty. There they were also subjected to inhumane treatment and periodic mortar attacks. Today, these brave men and women have been relocated outside of Iraq, beyond the immediate reach of Iran, in Albania, where they enjoy the protection of the Albanian government, which continues to resist efforts by Tehran to do harm.
A few short years ago the MEK was listed as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department. Both Democratic and Republican administrations refused to examine the underlying evidence, thereby perpetuating the slander. The American and international media were all too willing to repeat this lie that the MEK were terrorists and that anyone who supported them was complicit with terrorism. Yet today the truth has prevailed and the MEK has been removed from the terrorism list. This is a great victory for the democratic opposition, and a blow to the mullahs in Tehran.
Almost a decade ago, the people of Iran rose up and took to the streets to protest an election that they thought was corrupt and stolen from them. They were brutally repressed by the regime. And for years, the protests have been sporadic, with the Iranian people either too intimidated or too fatigued to take to the streets. But in the last few months, we’ve seen a change. All over Iran, we have seen protests erupt spontaneously, protesting the endemic corruption, protesting the economic mismanagement, protesting the support for foreign adventures in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and elsewhere instead of investing in their own people at home. The fear of the regime is diminishing and the people are once again finding their voice.
A few years ago, Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton were private citizens, members of the American delegation seeking justice for the MEK and a better future for all the people of Iran. Today, both men are in the White House at the epicenter of power, close advisors to President Donald Trump. They know the justice of this cause and have seen firsthand the quiet dignity of Madame Rajavi. And today, President Trump has clearly marked out a different U.S. policy towards Iran, one is that is calling them to account for their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, their ongoing support for terrorism and insurrections around the region, and their massive violation of human rights at home. And the President’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has stated that “the bet that the nuclear deal would increase Middle East stability was a bad one for America, for Europe, for the Middle East, and indeed for the entire world. It was clear that it did not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions, nor did it deter its quest for regional hegemony.” So the Trump administration has reinstated previous sanctions against Tehran and developed new ones to hinder their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, to block the financing of terror, and to raise the costs of their destabilizing behavior across the region. This is a very different message from America with very different policies than just a few years ago.
Finally, a decade ago, Madame Rajavi was largely unknown in the United States, Europe, and the world. Today, she is widely respected as the determined and principal inspiration behind the leading democratic opposition movement. I for one cannot wait for her to visit the United States and outline her vision, outline her vision for a new Iran that ends the corruption, creates jobs for Iran’s young people, respects the rights of all its people, and wants to play a constructive role in building a new Middle East.
This is remarkable progress and in a very short period of time. The momentum has clearly started to shift. It is increasingly on the side of those that want a democratic representative Iran that can take its rightful place among the great cultures and countries of the world. Credit must go first and foremost to Madame Rajavi and the members of the NCRI in America, here in France, and all over the world, who have kept faith in this cause and worked tirelessly to bring to light the injustices of the Iranian regime, and deliver the hopeful message that there is another better way forward. Congratulations to all of you.
So now, let’s turn to the future. Because all of your hard work has created important new opportunities, opportunities that you now must seize to move your cause forward. With a new president in the White House and a new policy towards Iran, the democratic opposition now has an opportunity to reintroduce itself to the United States. This opportunity is likely to present itself only one time, and you must make the most of it. Many in America will rally to your cause, I am confident, if you can persuade them of your democratic credentials, your desire for a better future for all the people of Iran, an Iran that should be guided by the ten principles articulated by Madame Rajavi. But, the rules are now going to be changing for you. You are now going to be subject to far greater scrutiny than before, and you have to be thoughtful and strategic about how you present yourselves and your program. For example, we all know that there are those in the media and elsewhere who will allege that you are not a legitimate opposition movement at all but a cult, or perhaps worse, that you are still a terrorist organization. They will try to diminish you and distort what you have to say. This cannot be allowed to happen. The good news is that you have many friends on your side, here on our panel and throughout American and Europe, who all want a better future for the Iranian people. We all want to help. We all want to see you and all the people of Iran enjoy the benefits of ‘égalité, fraternité, and liberté’. That is the goal and we are today closer than ever before to realizing it.