Many United States luminaries are advocating for the U.S. government to open up “direct, collaborative talks” with the Iranian Resistance, according to top Middle East expert Dr Walid Phares.
“It represents the very thing that U.S. policy in the Middle East should be focused on—but isn’t, namely the empowerment of moderate and progressive Muslim groups for the sake of delegitimizing and marginalizing the all-too-common extremist element,” Dr Phares wrote in Forbes on Monday.
A number of former US officials and foreign policy experts recently issued a statement to the US government calling for four specific policy initiatives, he said:
1) the application of stricter demands in the nuclear negotiations with Iran; 2) confrontation of Iran’s destructive and destabilizing role in the Middle East; 3) increased attention to the abysmal Iranian record on human rights; and 4) to help facilitate action on the first three points by engaging in “respectful dialogue with the Iranian opposition, consistent with our country’s policy of dialogue with all political groups.”
“A copy of the statement was presented to Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran and its main constituent organization the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, at a gathering of Iranians in Paris with more than 100,000 participants,” he added.
This statement, Dr Phares argued, is significant for a number of reasons:
“First, witness the combination of the signatories which included senior former US officials and military leaders with knowledge on national security and foreign policy. And at a time of unprecedented partisan politics in Washington (particularly regarding Iran), the Policy Initiative includes both senior Democrats and Republicans.”
“Second, it has identified lack of communication and dialogue with the Iranian democratic opposition by both Democratic and Republican leadership as the missing part of U.S. policy on Iran.”
“Third, it offers a practical approach on nuclear negotiations with Iran as well as the crisis in the region by recognizing that Tehran’s leadership has shown no desire for abandoning its nuclear program. The regime is part of the problem—not the solution.”
“Fourth, the core of the new Policy Initiative is the recommendation to ‘break the stalemate’ and to ‘side with 80 million Iranian people and their desire, along with people everywhere, for freedom and popular sovereignty based on democratic principles’ and ‘engaging with the Iranian opposition.’ In this respect the bipartisan collation also recognizes the role of ‘Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, as a Muslim woman advocating a tolerant and democratic interpretation of Islam.'”
“The message delivered at this rally is one of broad-based change in Iran—away from the religious fascism of the current regime and towards true democracy, rule of law, respect for the rights of women and minorities, and other similar principles outlined in Mrs. Rajavi’s 10-point plan for the future of the country.”
Current US policies, Dr Phares said, seem to embrace an “inaccurate and limiting narrative about the Middle East which views radicalism as a necessary element of regional culture and politics. We can see this, for instance, in the Obama administration’s efforts to encourage Iranian influence in Iraq in hopes of playing off the Shiite theocracy against the Sunni militants of the Islamic State.”
“But there are few real distinctions between those two groups, and any outcome of a conflict between them is a net loss for Western interests in the Middle East. The recent policy statement makes it clear that its American signatories understand this. The document points out that the Islamic Republic of Iran is effectively the prototype for Middle East, state-sponsored Islamist extremism. It says, ‘If ISIS succeeds, what the world will get is a Sunni version of Khomeini’s Iran.'”
“Conversely, even if Iran succeeds—an outcome explicitly endorsed by the Obama administration—what we will be left with in Iraq and Syria is a series of proxies under the control of the Shiite version of ISIS. While ISIS beheads its enemies and seeks to establish a region-wide caliphate, Tehran hangs political dissenters for the sake of an Islamist political system whose founder mandated the expansion of Iranian power to unify and dominate the Muslim world.”
“We should not be satisfied with these alternatives. In either case we are left with a Middle East that is less stable than it might be, owing to the constant presence of sectarian discord. This has been Iran’s legacy in the region, and it will be the legacy of the continuation of a policy that embraces Iran’s extremism in opposition to another brand of extremism. The signers of the statement know this and point out that they have been warning of Iran’s sectarian influence for some time.”
“So too has the Iranian resistance. This fact alone should encourage Western policymakers to recognize the resistance as a non-sectarian, moderate alternative to our current short list of prospective partners in the Middle East and the Muslim world. What’s more, its Western-friendly ideologies also provide it with popular support from among the educated, progressive population of Iran, giving the group great power.”
“The significance of that power should be clear in the issues and threats to Western security behind the other three policy recommendations offered. Still, the U.S. government has evidently been loath to seriously confront Iran on its nuclear program, its actions in Yemen. Bahrain and Syria, and its constant hangings and political imprisonments. Why? Because the current administration fears the consequences of poor relations with both sides of the sectarian divide.”
“But this is nothing to fear as long as we recognize that there is an alternative—and there is. The Iranian resistance stands ready to help us in putting pressure on our enemies instead of engaging them in conciliatory negotiations. It stands ready to promote Western democratic ideals in places where some policymakers seem to think they cannot soon take hold.”
“The recommendations in that document do not just represent a better way forward for U.S. policy in the Middle East; they urge the fundamental realignment of a policy in favor of freedom and democracy, instead of half-measures and unprincipled pragmatism.”
Dr. Phares advises members of the US Congress on the Middle East and teaches international relations at universities in Washington D.C.