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Appeasing the ayatollahs and suppressing democracy

Concessions characterize Washington’s policy in nuclear talks with Tehran. Running out of ways to concede, there are rumors the ayatollahs may ask Washington to place the main opposition that rejects clerical rule — prodemocracy organizations — on the chopping block.

Will the U.S. administrations reach out to Tehran by sacrificing the main Iranian prodemocracy opposition, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) / Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), or broader parliament in exile, of which it is a part — the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)? If the executive branch takes such action, many Washington pundits believe that Congress would see this as a shameful policy for our nation, and may wish to act.

London, Paris and Washington fall victim to the chess players from Tehran whose end game repeatedly trumps the major powers. But the prodemocracy opposition also plays chess. The NCRI just announced that it plans to hold another press conference about Iran’s negotiating tactics to extract concessions from the United States to maintain its nuclear infrastructure intact.

{mosads}We are approaching the end game of the nuclear deadline, June 30. With too little progress, expect Tehran to demand concessions about PMOI members in Camp Liberty, Iraq, held in prison-like circumstances for the Iranian regime.

In 2002, during the invasion of Iraq, Tehran asked the Bush administration to bomb PMOI bases in Iraq, which the U.S. did despite the group’s nonbelligerent posture. Washington received Iran’s pledge not to interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs, which Tehran soon violated.

During the summer 2009 uprising in Iran, the PMOI was active in fomenting dissent; its main residence, Camp Ashraf, was attacked by pro-Tehran Iraqi forces. The State Department first blamed the PMOI.

In September 2013, Baghdad’s swat teams entered Camp Ashraf and executed 52 unarmed PMOI members by shooting at them at point blank range and tying their hands in the back before execution. The State Department claimed a close ally of Iran, Nouri al-Maliki, had nothing to do with the murder or with the seven people including six female hostages.

On Nov. 13, 2015, in a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Bret McGurk, deputy assistance secretary of State for Near East Affairs, said, “In that attack there was no foreknowledge from the highest levels of the Iraqi government.” Tehran “cheered” the murders, as the Obama administration secretly negotiated with Iran before the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action.

The PMOI has been the enemy of Tehran for decades. Tehran pays more attention and dislikes it more than all other opposition organizations combined, according to one quantitative study. Why? The PMOI has been responsible for much of what we know about the nuclear program of Iran, including the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and heavy water facility in Arak.    

June 19 2003 report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms the PMOI as first source:

“During the General Conference, the Director General met with the Vice President, and asked that Iran confirm whether it was building a large underground nuclear related facility at Natanz and a heavy water production plant at Arak, as reported in the media in August 2002 … . 

“During his visit [to Iran], the Director General was informed by Iran of its uranium enrichment programme, which was described as including two new facilities located at Natanz …. These two facilities were declared to the Agency for the first time during that visit … . Iran also confirmed … the heavy water production plant [NCRI August 2002, Arak].”

Regarding a February 2015 PMOI revelation of a secret site, Lavizan-3, Iran is suspected of conducting tests and enrichment with advanced centrifuge machines. And Fordow underground enrichment facility near Qom is another NCRI revelation.

NCRI intelligence revealed, during September 2009, sites in and near Tehran, where Tehran may be working on detonators for nuclear warheads. Prompted by such publicity, it acknowledged in September existence of a uranium enrichment facility about 20 miles north of Qom. By January 2012, Iran admitted enrichment at the site: Fordow.

A day after the NCRI revelation of a covert site, Lavizan-3, Secretary John Kerry appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee; he said the powers hoped to close off a covert pathway to the bomb, but admitted, “Covert, of course, is the hardest.” “You need to have verification and intrusive inspection to be able to find covert facilities.” On February 25, Kerry had called for enhanced inspections to catch Iranian cheating, but on April 9, Tehran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, said its “military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision.”

According to my research, it is time to have intrusive IAEA inspection, “anytime, anywhere,” of hidden sites; have inspectors take samples from the environment in secret facilities. Doing less, Washington may find itself at the end of the line of Churchill’s adage that an appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat the appeaser last. For Washington to think that instead of pressuring Tehran to comply, it may have better success by demonizing the PMOI members in Camp Liberty, would be wishful thinking and a dangerous path to follow.


Tanter cofounded the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) and serves as its president and of Iran Policy Committee Publishing. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Committee on the Present Danger, and was for about a decade an adjunct scholar at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 

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