Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, September 22 2014: … Ultimately, the real leverage behind a sanctions regime is that it stops short of, but still depends on the ability to follow through with the ultimate threat, war. It is, however, now possible to state that if Israel, with or without the backing of the United States, could have launched a pre-emptive air strike …
America Must Make Its Underlying Intentions Toward Iran Clear
The 5+1 nuclear negotiations will resume in November. Although this is still some time away, analysts, policy writers and diplomats have been busy working to formulate an achievable diplomatic position which will bridge the gaps left at the end of the last session. Here in the UK, we think we know what our position must be. Iran must make concessions on the number of its centrifuges and in exchange sanctions will be lifted within a reasonable time scale. In this respect, the UK falls broadly in line with the American position. But with the opening of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly next week, and the second visit to New York of Iran’s President Rohani, perhaps this is a good time for the UK to step back and consider exactly what that American position actually is. A side-meeting on September 18 in New York will test the waters on progress. Iran is not optimistic.
This time last year, western powers pinned great hopes on newly elected President Rohani after the painful and acrimonious Ahmadinejad years. President Obama’s unprecedented personal phone call to him was widely welcomed as a parting gesture of goodwill.
So, can we expect a similarly positive welcome this time around? In many ways, Iran has enjoyed a positive year on the world scene, most recently supporting Iraqi Shiite militia in ousting IS from parts of northern Iraq. Iran has also demonstrably complied with the demands on its nuclear program which were set at the end of the last round of negotiations.
But when Rohani arrives in New York this time there will certainly be no roses strewn across his path. America’s tone this time will be significantly different; if not overtly hostile, it is still, conspicuously chilly. Evidence for this comes not in words — the official America line is that diplomacy must be given a chance to succeed — but specific anti-Iran activity clearly demonstrate a truer U.S. position which still engenders ostracism and enmity rather than engagement and diplomacy.
Ratcheting up pressure on a country by raising concerns over human rights abuses is, of course, a standard diplomatic tool. Amnesty International has criticized Iran for weaknesses in the judicial process leading to the executions of a large number of criminals in recent months. But beyond this, Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, became highly critical of an American led campaign which exploited various conferences and forums to pick at the human rights issue like a scab, hoping that it would bleed enough to provoke Iran to respond in anger. Shaheed complained that such actions which deliberately involved him may have actually compromised his impartiality in the eyes of Iran and destroyed his efforts at confidence building to overcome non-cooperation.
But the main indication of bad faith on the American side came when, in spite of widespread warnings and criticism, the White House announced further sanctions against Iran in the gap between negotiating sessions without waiting for a proper assessment of Iranian compliance with its agreed obligations. US officials argued that since sanctions had already forced Iran to the negotiating table, this would add leverage to the U.S. position. But there has been no evidence of this. Critics pointed out that Saddam Hussein’s regime survived for years under sanctions and only a disastrous war and occupation deposed him. Iran has already been under American sanctions for 30 years. In the U.S., the move would be interpreted under the prism of internal politics; the Administration acting to undercut a more bullish approach by Congress. But for many the perception was of a deliberately aggressive act aimed at provoking Iran to walk away from the nuclear negotiating table.
Iran’s interpretation, which is just as valid as an American view, was that America can only engage in diplomatic relations if its intention is to make concessions as well as extract them from Iran. Iran sees no evidence of this. President Obama is unable to lift sanctions imposed by Congress and clearly a bellicose Congress will not vote to lift sanctions. Indeed one Iranian lawmaker characterized the fresh sanctions as “punishing Iran because Israel lost in Gaza” when Operation Protective Edge achieved none of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s self-imposed objectives.
Now that Iran and Russia have agreed to strengthen energy ties and are looking to create a payment system outside the hegemony of the U.S. dollar, America is slowly waking up to a shifting power balance, arguably of its own making, which signals increasing evasion of the U.S. sanctions regime by countries seeking the economic advantages attached to trading with Iran. Even apart from the problems of Ukraine, Russian and Chinese trade imperatives are unpicking the unity of the P5+1. Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice just traveled to China at his behest to strengthen relations. Germany and France are also weighing the potential economic losses and gains that are imposed on them by the sanctions regime, and may also drift further from the U.S., UK and the silent partner of both, Israel.
Iran has been under sanctions for 30 years but the economy is growing stronger. From a western perspective the Middle East is chaotic and is reaching crisis point with the advent of ISIL. But Iran now enjoys growing influence in the region through the exercise of soft power. Hamas leaders in Gaza are accepting a more political role and have agreed to work with Fatah to create a new Palestinian Authority. Hezbollah has successfully carved out a leading role in the government of Lebanon. This is where we see the hand of Iran. Iraq, Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Syria draw ever closer to Iran not only as a natural, but more importantly in the light of perceived American double-standards, as a reliable ally. Iran’s latest use of this influence was used to successfully help Iraqi Shiite militia oust ISIS from various locations in north Iraq. If America’s Iran policy was designed to weaken and isolate the country, it has failed.
Iran certainly feels itself in a much stronger position moving forward.
Ultimately, the real leverage behind a sanctions regime is that it stops short of, but still depends on the ability to follow through with the ultimate threat, war.
It is, however, now possible to state that if Israel, with or without the backing of the United States, could have launched a pre-emptive air strike to take out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, then it would have done so by now. The truth is, not only does Iran’s military capability render it a daunting foe, but its retaliatory capability would strike deep into American interests in the Middle East. In 2013, Iran successfully guided down an American drone which was then reverse engineered to create a home made version. Only in August, Iran claimed, controversially, that it had shot down an Israeli drone before it left Iranian airspace after it had been tracked flying near the Natanz nuclear power plant.
Also in August, Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan, announced that the supersonic Khalij-e Fars (Persian Gulf) ballistic missile has gone into production. Although Iran describes this as a defensive weapon, the Pentagon is reportedly concerned about Iran’s reach into the Persian Gulf where U.S. warships would be vulnerable.
The crisis in northern Iraq must prove a salutary lesson. That Iran can wield soft power in Iraq does not need stating, but that Iran is willing to work in military cooperation with America where they have mutual interests and benefits has been swept under the carpet by ideologues refusing to “give in” to the Iranians. Instead Senator Kerry is off to visit Jordan, whose own citizens threaten turmoil over recent events in Gaza, and Saudi Arabia, whose Wahhabi reach into Iraq amounts to at best an irritant to the majority of Shiites and Kurds, and at worst, amounts to support for IS. Excluding Iran and focusing on Syria only reinforces the perception that this will essentially be an anti-Iran coalition. But the price will be paid not by Iran but the weak Gulf states and western countries where the terrorists may turn next.
Acknowledging this doesn’t mean we have to like it and it certainly doesn’t mean that the west shouldn’t drive a hard bargain over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But it does mean that America needs to rethink its obdurate resistance to this new reality and accept that if it can’t wage war against Iran it will need to engage with the Islamic Republic as is, in the here and now. The days of war and regime change bluster have reached the end of the road.
What all this ultimately means is that when the P5+1 countries sit down together with Iran for the next round of nuclear negotiations, they will do so in a much weaker position, not only because of disunity, but because of what Iranians see as American duplicity. America can only engage honestly in diplomatic relations if its intentions are to make concessions as well as extract them from Iran. Iran sees that American diplomats still do not have a clear mandate to resolve the outstanding issues. Instead it appears more the case that the U.S. wants to try to force Iran to walk away first and claim a Pyrrhic victory.
Certainly the UK cannot formulate a negotiating policy in conjunction with the United States until America makes clear its underlying intentions toward Iran.
Massoud Khodabandeh meeting on Camp Ashraf
Maryam Rajavi’s annual Rally in Villepinte. This year promoting ISIS, MEK, Saddamists – Everyone Loses
Massoud Khodabandeh, Iranian.com, June 29 2014: … The MEK pretend to work as mercenaries to suit western backers but have in reality simply exploited loopholes and weaknesses in western political systems purely to promote themselves and, like parasites, find a niche to exist in for a while. The MEK have infiltrated parliaments and ministries and …
Maryam Rajavi’s annual Rally in Villepinte. This year promoting ISIS, MEK, Saddamists – Everyone Loses
A scene from a previous MEK rent-a-crowd rally in Villepinte
This past Friday in Paris, the Mojahedin Khalq is held its annual rally to celebrate its violent past. This year, as every year, the MEK will pay both speakers and audience to attend. The annual rally is increasingly exposed and mocked by the media.
Who are they?
Mojahedin Khalq is one of the rare forces which advertises and is proud of being a mercenary force. They never had an agenda of their own but have taken money from their paymasters, such as Saddam Hussein, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Although no government except Saddam Hussein’s regime has ever publicly condoned or supported the MEK, various Western agencies – the Pentagon, CIA, MOSSAD, the Israeli lobby and various neoconservatives – have at various times, and for various purposes, used the MEK. The MEK undertakes activities and poses in particular ways which suit their agendas – information laundry, assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, and more, culminating in Maryam Rajavi’s disastrous, ludicrous attempt to pose as a human rights advocate in the Canadian Parliament in May this year.
What is different this year?
This time the annual rally is being held at the same time that Western leaders meet in Paris to discuss how to find a political solution to the crisis in Iraq.
Each government is, of course, pursuing its own interests in Iraq and each wants to wrest the greatest political influence and benefit from the current crisis. But what they all share in common is the need to confront and stop the terrorist threat of ISIS in Iraq.
Iraqi media and analysts identify this current manifestation of ISIS as a sophisticated military force – although said to be an offshoot of Al Qaida formed in Syria – as an element of the Baath Party (that is, the remains of Saddam’s regime), who had warned before that they would take revenge and create chaos and mayhem. Some ISIS equipment has been found to have previously belonged to the MEK. This is not a group which has newly emerged or lately come together, but is part of an existing cohort of groups and individuals prepared to use extreme violence to pursue political aims. The MEK are part of this cohort.
While the violence of the triangle of Saddamists, ISIS and MEK in Iraq is ongoing, we witness that the MEK’s strongest advocates in the west, Struan Stevenson, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Paulo Casaca and a couple of others have abandoned their mainstream political careers in the European Parliament and similar places to become full time advocates for this cohort. Under the organisational label ‘European Iraqi Freedom Association’ (EIFA), they claimed that the recent violent acts in Iraq were not carried out by ISIS, but were “part of a popular uprising” against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In doing so, they are openly backing the MEK, ISIS and Saddamist cohort against the government of Iraq even after successful elections returned popularly elected political representatives.
For those with any lingering doubt about where the MEK stands on the issue of terrorism, an examination of their own website in Farsi is instructive. Only days before the current crisis erupted in Iraq, MEK leader Massoud Rajavi expressed his solidarity with the Saudi backed Jaish-ul-Adl terrorist group based in Pakistan. Referring to the execution of 16 men affiliated to Jaish-ul-Adl terrorist group Masoud Rajavi described them as “martyrs” and “brothers”.
A screenshot of the MEK site’s first page quickly circulated on the internet as shocked Iranians of every stripe denounced the MEK. As the world looked on in horror at the actions of ISIS (beheadings, mass murders, etc), the MEK hailed the group as “revolutionary forces”, (an echo of the false identity it ascribes to itself as “Iran’s resistance movement”), and continued to advertise ISIS achievements and stances.
The MEK’s collaboration with Saddamists and its public support for ISIS is unsurprising for experts on the group, but it is problematic. This support has made MEK in Camp Liberty a legitimate target for revenge killing by its old enemies – the Kurdish and Shiite populations among which the MEK massacred several thousand for Saddam Hussein during the First Gulf War in 1991. This matches with one of Massoud Rajavi’s recent internal proclamations; that should Camp Liberty be threatened by (unspecified) outside forces the residents should all kill themselves. In this way, Rajavi would be rid of many witnesses to his multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes. A meeting of ex members in Paris on 21 June highlighted this very threat.
But this stance contradicts another of Rajavi’s positions, which is to use the forces in Camp Liberty as advertising products in the Paris rally. The speakers may admit to being paid, but they also claim to sincerely believe in the MEK’s ability to bring about freedom for Iran, and will no doubt be keen to use the platform in Paris to echo the demand to ‘rescue’ the Camp Liberty residents. Whether they are willfully ignorant of the facts or simply naïve is open to question. Indeed, both speakers and attendees should ask how this rally will help rescue the residents in Camp Liberty, Iraq, who the MEK leaders absolutely refuse to help. The UN has not hesitated to denounce the hindrances and obstruction created by the MEK leaders when it has tried to help these victims. In addition, the UN has accused the MEK of human rights abuses against its own members.
Lobbying for what? survival of a terrorist cult?
The idea that this rally is for lobbying is not only false but it is dangerous. Lobbying cannot involve the promotion of bloodshed and terror; that is murder. In any case, the MEK are not lobbying anyone for anything. The MEK is a cult and has its own agenda quite independent of its publicly stated policies. Its own internal interests are paramount and the current rally is being used to promote Maryam Rajavi as a replacement for Massoud Rajavi as the cult guru or ideological leader.
Everything the MEK has ever done has been to ensure its own survival; from working for Saddam Hussein to getting de-listed as a terrorist group. Governments, countries, agencies and lobbyists would do well to sit down and work out what have been their gains and losses because of using this organisation. For example, the MEK has not advanced the neoconservative agenda at all, instead because of its resort to violence it has benefited the conservatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran who use it to point out western double standards on terrorism. The MEK’s achievements in relation to its proclaimed stance are nil.
Can MEK be trusted? beneficial?
The MEK pretend to work as mercenaries to suit western backers but have in reality simply exploited loopholes and weaknesses in western political systems purely to promote themselves and, like parasites, find a niche to exist in for a while. The MEK have infiltrated parliaments and ministries and misused them. The rally in Paris on June 27th exploits the concept of ‘freedom of speech’ to promote a pretended political point of view.
Given the MEK’s very clear and public support for ISIS, the fallout from this rally will affect everyone. While Western leaders are in the same city promoting the formation of a united front (according to configurations best suited to themselves) to confront the terrorist group, by turning a blind eye to a rally held by ISIS supporters in Paris, all western governments, not just that of France, are implicated in tacit support for that terrorism.
A scene from a previous MEK rent-a-crowd rally in Villepinte
(Izzat Ebrahim and Massoud Rajavi still at large)
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris, June 27 2014: … France has no contact with the “People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran” which is known for its use of violence. It has no legal existence in France as an organization. Its violent and undemocratic Ideology has been exposed by several human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International who have reported on …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Iranian.com, May 05 2014: … these anti-Iranian hardliners in the USA, headed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, already failed in a provocative bid to bring the Mojahedin Khalq’s second-in-command Maryam Rajavi to the US to speak in Washington to coincide with the nuclear talks. Such a visit could have only one purpose; the hope that Iran would …
Farideh Farhi, Lobelog, April 22 2014: … members (some of them with links to the exiled Iranian opposition group, the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), such as Spanish EPP member Alejo Vidal-Quadras and British ECR member Struan Stevenson) proposed amendments deleting the call for an opening of the EU office in Tehran, fully in line with the position of their supposed enemies — Iranian hardliners …
Eldar Mamedov, Lobelog, June 19 2014: … While the world watched in horror as jihadist extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized the Iraqi city of Mosul, some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) claimed that these actions were not carried out by ISIS, but were “part of a popular upris