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Iran reset: Challenges for next four years

The Hill

By Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.)

During WWII, Winston Churchill famously opined that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing---after they’ve tried everything else!” Today, those very words aptly describe U.S. policy towards Iran.

While engagement has only emboldened Tehran, and sanctions have proven to be insufficient, military action risks Armageddon. As the president begins his second term, he should be convinced that “everything else” has already been tried; it is now time to do “the right thing,” when it comes to Iran policy.
Last October’s, albeit belated, administration decision to remove the principal Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), from an unjustified State Department blacklist -- was clearly the first step in the right direction.

Delisting MEK signals to Tehran that the U.S. intends to reset policy by finally factoring in the Iranian people and the organized resistance movement committed to replacing the mullahs with a democratic, secular, nuclear-free republic. Secretary Hillary Clinton’s courageous decision presented a watershed opportunity to change Iran from within. Moving forward, the Obama Administration should now reach out to the MEK as part of a calibrated effort to ratchet up pressure against the clerical regime in Tehran, while exploring the possibilities within the Iranian opposition as the people step up their opposition to Iranian rulers.


As a Pentagon-funded report by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress noted in December, Tehran “considers the Mojahedin-e-Khalq to be the organization that most threatens the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

It is a measure of MEK’s influence and power that the mullahs consider the movement an existential threat and have vowed to annihilate its members at all costs. Epitomizing the best impulses of the Arab Spring, and embracing values all Americans cherish, MEK has proven itself to be a democratic ally worthy of our recognition as a player when it comes to the future of Iran.

MEK has provided the West with invaluable intelligence about Iran’s nuclear secrets: the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and the heavy water facility in Arak (2002): the key nuclear research and development facility in Lavizan-Shian (2003); the Fordow underground enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom (2005); and other significant sites over the following years directly involved with nuclear weaponization.

For 15 years, the mullahs invoked the MEK’s FTO designation to shamefully justify extreme human rights violations of countless Iranian citizens. Similarly, at Tehran’s urging, the unwarranted designation was used by the Iraqi government to justify the murder and oppression of 3,400 Iranian dissidents, members of MEK, at Camp Ashraf and the reluctant relocation into prison-like conditions at Camp Liberty, near Baghdad.

Today, with prices rising and the value of the rial plunging, the Iranian economy is in shambles. The ruling clerical elite are increasingly fragmented and rapacious internal dissent makes the moment right for regime change. Despite dire risks, at every opportunity Iranians, particularly the young people, have taken to the streets to defy the mullahs’ tyranny and decry their lack of freedom.

This time, our government must actively support the people of Iran. The incoming Secretary of State, John Kerry, must see to it that the United Nations designates Camp Liberty as a “refugee camp” rather than a “transit camp.” The U.S. and the UN must remedy the consequences and effects of an antiquated MEK designation, by guaranteeing the rights of the exiled dissidents, and ensuring that their new status is recognized and upheld in Iraq.
Specifically, the Iraqi government must allow members of the Iranian Resistance to sell their property at Camp Ashraf without further obstruction, so that they can support themselves until they are safely relocated. US foreign policy interests are best served by the swift and safe resettlement of Camp Liberty residents to Europe and the U.S. This is an issue that many Iranian-Americans with relatives at Camp Liberty care deeply about.

Maryam Rajavi, the Resistance’s charismatic and courageous leader, has articulated a Ten-Point-Plan, which envisions an Iranian future based on a popularly elected government, separation of church and state, full equality for women and minorities, peace and friendship with all countries in the region, and a non-nuclear Iran.

How to deal with the desire of the Iranian people who are already intent on changing Iran from within is a challenge the next U.S. president will have to address if we are to deploy the most powerful weapon at our disposal to solve the Iranian nuclear threat, prevent Iran’s terrorist regime from dangerous regional domination, and most importantly to be on the right side of the history.

Kennedy represented Rhode Island’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1995-2011