PARIS – Although few in America probably are aware of it, taking place right now is a huge gathering of the Iranian diaspora calling for regime change by the Iranian people.
I’m writing from this gathering of tens of thousands of expats and their international supporters (including an impressive and bipartisan group of American attendees that includes former CIA director James Woolsey, former Sec. of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, former head of the UN Human Rights Commission Ken Blackwell, former Labor Sec. Elaine Chao, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Hugh Shelton, former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps James Conway, Alan Dershowitz, and former DNC head Howard Dean).
Some background on the event organizers — and this rally. The good news is they’re no longer considered a terrorist organization. The bad news is…I’m attending their eight-hour rally. It’s not that I disagree with what I’ve heard and understood (it’s not all in English and translations are hurried), it’s just that I don’t know of anything (even, let’s say, eating pizza) that I would want to do for eight hours. But at least it’s full of passion and intensity.
The rally which, as far as I can tell, also includes many thousands of young people who were bused in from all across Europe, is sponsored by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a Paris-based group that serves as an umbrella organization for five Iranian opposition groups, the most controversial being the MEK. I came here partly out of curiosity. This is a group whose American boosters include (aside from the aforementioned names) people like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Ambassador John Bolton, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.
I was invited to Paris by the event’s organizers – full disclosure, at their expense – to this meeting. The timing of this gathering couldn’t be any better. We gather at a time when we approach the deadline of the on the sixth anniversary of Iran’s Green Movement.
When I ask my press contact, Shahin, about the past controversies, he tells me they are the victims of a smear campaign orchestrated in order to muddy the waters, so that there are essentially no “good guys” who could govern Iran. He also shows me a sort of Facebook – pictures of a hundred thousand (or so) Iranians who have been killed by the regime. In some cases, this includes entire families — disappeared or murdered, sometimes for crimes such as handing out opposition pamphlets. The Iranian regime are the “worst criminals of the 21st century,” Dershowitz says during a one-on-one interview. “They have the blood of more than 100,000 dissidents, gays, Christians, and others.”
So why was the MEK once considered a terrorist organization? “When you’re part of an armed resistance and you’re not a government, you’re deemed to be terrorists,” Dershowitz tells me. From the stage, Howard Dean thanked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for removing them from the terror list.
But the MEK laid down their arms years ago as part of a deal with the United States. Their treatment since then is a major bone of contention. The MEK was once provided a safe haven in Iraq by the U.S. at a place called Camp Liberty, but when America pulled out of Iraq, they were turned over to the Iraqi government — an Iraq government that is now under the influence of Iran. Dr. Dershowitz is considering bringing a lawsuit to compel the U.S. to honor its agreement. “Just get them out,” he tells me. “It can be done tomorrow. Fly them to Jordan.”
“I am embarrassed. I am ashamed. And I’m here to apologize,” Rudy Giuliani said of this betrayal during a stem-winder Giuliani also said he wouldn’t support any candidate for president who didn’t call for regime change in Iran, and, calling for moral clarity, he continued: “Where is Ronald Reagan when we need him”
This is just one of the many things the attendees of the conference seem to all agree on. The night before the rally, I attended a much smaller meeting. The most interesting speakers were arguably Woolsey and Dean. “We are going to have to prepare to use force against Iran,” Woolsey averred, calling the notion that Iran would want to build a nuclear power plant for energy production purposes a “total and complete lie.” Dean was equally blunt, but his passion was tempered by humor. He joked that he, as governor of Vermont, knew how toppling Iraq would play out, while the people in power did not. “Iraq is finished as a country,” he reiterated (an opinion he has shared before). Dean also stressed human rights issues in Iran, and, concerning the nuclear deal, said: “I personally believe now’s the time to walk away from the table.”
Meanwhile, American supporters of the cause are citing Lafeyette — who assisted in our struggle for freedom — as a role model at this Paris gathering. (One of the speakers points out Lafayette didn’t come to America to help us “negotiate with the British,”) says Rep. Dana Rohrabacher during the rally, before calling for regime change. A statement of support is read from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is not in attendance. Sen. John McCain delivers his address via video.
These Americans have issued a “policy initiative on Iran.” The signers include Rudy Giuliani, Porter Goss, Newt Gingrich, Bill Richardson, Linda Chavez, Louis Freeh, Michael Mukasey, Joe Lieberman, and Tom Ridge – just to name a few. “All of us here today stand with them in solidarity with their deepest aspirations for a respectable, just and democratic Iranian government worthy of its people.”
The document calls for “verification, not blind trust” on the nuclear negotiations, curbing and deterring “Iran’s destructive role throughout the region,” and being “more vigilant and vocal about human rights abuses by the regime that continue inside Iran.”
Back at the rally, Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian resistance, is speaking. And she has a message for Western governments: “If you do not want a nuclear-armed fundamentalist regime,” she said, “stop appeasing it.”