The importance of McCain's meeting with prodemocracy Iranian dissidents in Albania
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

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A visit on Friday, April 14, 2017 by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn McCainMcCain rivals praise senator after brain cancer diagnosis McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty Overnight Defense: Trump gets briefing at Pentagon on ISIS, Afghanistan | Senate panel approves five defense picks | Senators want Syria study in defense bill MORE (R-Ariz.), to Albania dramatically illustrates the growing role of the Congress in support of prodemocracy dissidents abroad.

A Bipartisan Tradition

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McCain is a part of a long-term bipartisan custom of members who back democratic alternatives to dictatorships. One of his predecessors in the Senate was a Democrat, the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson. A Republican, Elliott Abrams, served as Jackson’s special counsel from 1975-76, and stated, “The essence of the Soviet dilemma [is that] the Kremlin must grant some freedom in order to maintain technological growth but allowing freedom undermines Communist ideology and discipline.” This perspective was later embraced by President Reagan and his secretary of State, George Shultz.

It is applicable to the Iranian regime, whose legitimacy would be undermined by permitting even a whiff of freedom.

There is bipartisan support in the Congress in favor of backing prodemocracy Iranian oppositionists. There have been about three decades of bipartisan congressional support for the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). See H.Con.Res.159- introduced in Nov. 2016 by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and ranking member Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.), as well as Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.).

With this history of support for prodemocracy dissidents in mind, reconsider the visit by Sen. McCain. Per Fox News, McCain met with Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the NCRI in Albania. They discussed the human rights violations by Tehran, the Iranian regime’s nefarious subversion in the region, and prospects for a future Iran.

Rajavi praised McCain for his relentless efforts in support of NCRI members, when they were held in prison-like conditions in Iraq and their relocation to Albania. She said, “Today, there is a consensus in the Middle East about the clerical regime’s destructive role and that the religious fascism ruling Iran is the primary source of war, terrorism, and crisis in the region.”

McCain said he believed the Iranian regime, Bashar Assad and the Islamic State were interrelated and underscored the need to remove Assad from power and confront the Iranian regime’s destructive role in Syria and Iraq.

Rajavi added, “From all indications, the clerical regime is at an impasse socially, politically, and economically and as such is quite vulnerable. The Iranian people and resistance are more determined and prepared than ever to overthrow the ruling theocracy and establish democracy and popular sovereignty in Iran.”

Prior to the meeting, McCain, joined by Rajavi, visited one of the NCRI headquarters in Tirana where he was warmly welcomed by the organization’s members who had been relocated from Iraq to Albania. In a sign the tide is turning in favor of the NCRI in Washington, the State Department was well-represented by Deputy Chief of the U.S. Mission and many U.S. Embassy staff in Tirana.

Addressing NCRI members, McCain congratulated them on their successful relocation from Iraq and lauded their perseverance and steadfastness despite enduring great calamities and losing many of their comrades. “There is no doubt that the people in this room have suffered. They have suffered not only themselves but in the loss of their loved ones because of the Iranian tyranny, and I express my condolences to everyone in this room who has lost a loved one as a result of the Iranian tyranny and terrorism.” McCain also expressed his gratitude to the government of Albania for their hospitality.

McCain told NCRI members, “You have stood up and fought and sacrificed for freedom, for the right to live free, for the right to determine your own future, for the rights that are God given.”

Not surprisingly, there was severe pushback by Tehran against the visit by McCain. Iran’s Foreign Ministry criticized him for meeting with members of the NCRI in Albania, issuing a threat, saying, “Washington will pay a price, for the meeting.”

The Way Forward

First, there needs to be an expansion of the bipartisan tradition to include more members from both sides of the aisle.

Second, it is critical for the world to support prodemocracy Iranian dissidents. In my research, I find the NCRI Ten-Point Plan for a future Iran contains three key principles: pluralism; separation of religion and state; and no weapons of mass destruction.

Third, when the Congress and president concur, they have a strong constitutional standing when facing threats from abroad, such as how to confront threats from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Dr. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the Reagan National Security Council, 1981-1982 and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.