Trump has said that the Iranian people are the “longest suffering victims” of the Iranian regime. He and his foreign policy advisors have clarified that the emerging Iran strategy recognizes the difference between the government of the Islamic Republic and the people of Iran.
Many believe that the Trump administration sees a need for regime change and is willing to pursue this goal. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that US policy in the Middle East should include the promotion of those domestic voices in Iran who support transitioning its government from its current dictatorship to a Democracy. Still, Tillerson did not specify who those voices are, although the resistance against the Islamic Republic is a known quantity.
The US has been slow to change its stance regarding the resistance movement, even though many American lawmakers have expressed support for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its main constituent group the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI, or MEK in Persian).
On both sides of the Atlantic, the NCRI and MEK have widespread support among western politicians, who have given their support to the resistance’s agenda, including human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, gender equality and a non-nuclear Iran, as has been articulated in the 10 point plan of the NCRI President, Maryam Rajavi. The NCRI and MEK enjoy bipartisan support in Washington, as well as across Europe and in the Islamic world.
The main opposition against the Iranian theocracy was listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department until 2012. However, it was included on that list because of the conciliatory nature of Iran strategy that was well established by 1997, when the MEK was given its false terrorist designation. The Clinton administration was hoping for rapprochement with the regime. It was willing to eliminate any possibility of cooperation with the MEK or NCRI as a precondition for relevant talks. On May 8, 2008, the Wall street Journal quoted several diplomats who were involved in the nuclear talks with Iran, saying, “Iranian officials have urged suppression of the MEK in negotiations with Western governments over Tehran’s nuclear program and other issues.”
The MEK and NCRI resorted to an unprecedented legal and political campaign and was able to show that it is a legitimate resistance with support inside of Iran and among the Diaspora. It was de-listed by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration.
The Trump administration believes that the entire notion of moderates within the Iranian regime is a fantasy. The first term in office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani oversaw a surge in executions and a severe crackdown on dissents throughout the country. Additionally, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Asma Jahangir, confirmed this in her October 25 report to the UN General Assembly. She said that while there are hopeful signs in the form of Rouhani’s statements, the actual human rights conditions in the Islamic Republic have only deteriorated.
There has been a reemergence of Iranian propaganda targeting the MEK, NCRI and their affiliates. It is believed that this propaganda by Tehran and its lobby will intensify as the US continues to pursue an assertive strategy with regard to the Islamic Republic. As well, MEK, NCRI activism, particularly inside of Iran, has seen a significant upswing in recent months. In fact, there has been increased activism regarding the the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners, an overwhelming majority of them MEK supporters, during the summer of 1988.
The US has adopted a new Iran policy, and the Trump administration must build countermeasures to disinformation in its emerging Iran policy. The White House may soon declare itself an ally to the NCRI and a supporter of the cause of domestically-driven regime change in Iran.