Spencer Ackerman, Daily Beast, September 19 2018:… Giuliani confirmed to The Daily Beast that his “firm” will be paid for the speech, but declined to reveal how much, saying it was “confidential, unless they want to disclose the details.” Majid Sadeghpour, a spokesman for the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, said “it is not our policy to discuss any kind of arrangements regarding the speakers. (He also said the group …
Giuliani to Speak Beside Leader of Accused Iranian ‘Cult’ (Mojahedin Khalq, MEK, MKO, Rajavi cult)
The ex-New York mayor and Trump attorney has long been a supporter of the MEK. But the State Department cautions that Giuliani ‘does not speak for the U.S. government.’
President Trump’s personal lawyer on Saturday will speak alongside the leader of an Iranian opposition group that was designated as a terrorist organization and has often described been as cult-like. It’s the latest signal of the Trump administration’s coalescing hard-line stance against Iran.
Rudy Giuliani is scheduled to speak at the Sheraton in Times Square on Saturday to a gathering convened by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, an anti-regime group he’s addressed before. Also slated to speak is the co-leader of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), Maryam Rajavi, who will address the attendees remotely, according to a representative for the event.
But the Trump administration is already disavowing any implication that Giuliani’s appearance has anything to do with its Iran policies. “Rudy Giuliani does not speak for the U.S. government on foreign policy,” a State Department spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
“Rudy Giuliani has been shilling for the MEK for so long that he is clearly banking on everyone forgetting that the group was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, has American blood on its hands and has never owned up to its deeds,” said Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counter-terrorism coordinator in the Obama administration who now directs Dartmouth College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. “Giuliani’s buckraking has been scandalous all along, but it is worse when he does this while acting as the president’s lawyer.”
“Rudy Giuliani has been shilling for the MEK for so long that he is clearly banking on everyone forgetting that the group was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, has American blood on its hands and has never owned up to its deeds.”— Daniel Benjamin
Giuliani confirmed to The Daily Beast that his “firm” will be paid for the speech, but declined to reveal how much, saying it was “confidential, unless they want to disclose the details.” Majid Sadeghpour, a spokesman for the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, said “it is not our policy to discuss any kind of arrangements regarding the speakers. (He also said the group has no “formal relationship” with the MEK or a related group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.)
“Our relationship goes back approximately 10 years,” Giuliani said, adding that he was invited to speak by “a client of my firm.” Giuliani did not directly respond when asked if he ran his speech by the administration, saying in a text message: “[T]hey are my thoughts as were the over 1,000 speeches I’ve given in the last 17 years and of course before.”
Sadeghpour said the group had invited Rajavi “to provide a video speech about the developments in Iran, as her movement has been the main target of terror plots by the Iranian regime, including here in the U.S., as well as arrests and attacks by the Iranian regime inside the country.”
The OIAC conference is pegged to a forthcoming United Nations Security Council session, chaired by Trump and scheduled for September 26, ostensibly about nonproliferation but also about Iran. Trump will discuss “Iran’s violations of international law and the general instability Iran sows throughout the entire Middle East region,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley saidearlier this month.
And on its agenda is the prospect for overthrowing the Tehran regime. “The summit will focus on the organized opposition as the alternative to Iran’s ruling theocracy,” an invitation reads, “as well as the need for a decisive Iran policy to deal with the regime’s suppression of its own citizens and its export of terrorism.”
From 1997 to 2012, the MEK was on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups. The exile organization, implacably opposed to the Iranian theocracy after supporting the 1979 revolution, was a terrorist organization before the mullahs’ takeover. The MEK even killed American military personnel in Iran. It became a catspaw of Saddam Hussein’s during the 1980s, when it attacked regime targets, killed Iranian civilians. And the group has a history of behaving like an abusive cult in its treatment of its members, according to observers like Benjamin.
A 2003 New York Times Magazine story by Elizabeth Rubin, “The Cult of Rajavi,” quoted a former MEK member alleging: “Every morning and night, the kids, beginning as young as 1 and 2, had to stand before a poster of Massoud and Maryam, salute them and shout praises to them.” A 2009 Rand Corporation monograph described the MEK’s “near-religious devotion to the Rajavis (Massoud and his wife, Maryam), public self-deprecation sessions, mandatory divorce, celibacy, enforced separation from family and friends, and gender segregation.”
“A substantial number of these MEK members… did not have a clear understanding of the group’s goals and methods of operation—particularly with respect to its cult behavior—and many have been forced to remain against their will.”— Rand Corporation monograph
Yet the U.S. occupation of Iraq treated MEK members there as protected persons beginning in 2003, “which has left the United States open to charges of hypocrisy in the war on terrorism,” Rand observed. Rand’s monograph, penned in 2009, raised alarm about what was then a U.S.-protected MEK site called Camp Ashraf. It said that residents of the camp included “a substantial number of these MEK members [who] were lured to Iraq under false pretenses or did not have a clear understanding of the group’s goals and methods of operation – particularly with respect to its cult behavior—and many have been forced to remain against their will.”
None of that has hobbled the MEK’s outsized political influence in the United States, where it leverages its hatred of the Iranian regime for an enemy-of-my-enemy strategy. Rand called the group “skilled manipulators of public opinion” who are “adept at crafting and promoting its image as a democratic organization that seeks to bring down Iranian tyrants, both secular and religious.”
In 2012, an MEK lobbying effort prevailed on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to remove the group from the State Department’s list of terrorist groups. The MEK has long seen the wisdom of cultivating American political figures across the spectrum, including Democratic ex-governors Howard Dean and Ed Rendell; #resistance hero Michael Hayden, who used to direct the CIA and the NSA; Barack Obama’s former National Security Advisor Jim Jones; and ex-Joint Chiefs of Staff chairmen Hugh Shelton and Pete Pace. On Saturday, Jones will join Giuliani at the forum.
Giuliani has for years backed the MEK, appeared with Maryam Rajaviand taken her group’s money. And he’s spoken to the Organization of Iranian-American Communities before while serving as Trump’s attorney. The last time, in May, Giuliani claimed that Trump is “as committed to regime change as we are,” and pantomimed ripping up the Iran nuclear deal that the Trump administration has abandoned. He also spoke to an MEK gathering in Paris, where Rajavi is headquartered, in June.
Neither Giuliani nor his old law firm, Greenberg Traurig, appear in Justice Department records for foreign lobbying on behalf of the MEK or its known associates. But Giuliani has acknowledged that he took money for his May speech to the Organization of Iranian-American Communities, though he told the Washington Post that he doesn’t discuss his foreign clients with Trump.
Giuliani’s Saturday speech comes amidst rising hostility to Iran and frequent speculation about a confrontation. In July, Trump tweeted at his Iranian counterpart: “NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.” Last week, the administration showed signs of putting that threat into practice. It threatened reprisal for any Iranian-aligned forces that kill or injure U.S. personnel in Iraq. Shortly afterward, the secretaries of State and Defense stuck by its Saudi and Emirati allies over their brutal, U.S.-backed war in Yemen, a proxy fight against an Iranian-tied group. And James Jeffrey, the State Department special envoy for Syria, said the U.S. military mission in Syria has expanded into ensuring what the Post called an “Iranian departure.”
Giuliani’s “support for the MEK, as well as John Bolton’s longtime backing of the group, is strengthening the impression here and in Iran that the administration supports a policy of regime change,” Benjamin warned. “The risks and costs of such a policy would be enormous, and it’s a pretty good way to guarantee that Tehran will see building nuclear weapon as being in its interest.”
—with additional reporting by Lachlan Markay
Senate Democrats Ask the Justice Department to Investigate Rudy Giuliani’s Foreign Lobbying (including MEK, Rajavi cult terrorists)
Dan Friedman, September 07 2018:… The senators note that Giuliani also lobbied to help the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group, win removal from a State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, and has advocated for regime change in Iran, one of the group’s top goals. His recent clients include the government of Qatar, which is aggressively working to influence Trump, and he …
Senate Democrats Ask the Justice Department to Investigate Rudy Giuliani’s Foreign Lobbying
His work for a member of a pro-Russian political party is drawing scrutiny.
Rudy Giuliani greets Ukrainian politician Vitali Klitschko at the funeral service for late
United States Senator John McCain on September 1, 2018.
Alex Edelman/CNP via ZUMA Wire
Senate Democrats have asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, is violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by lobbying for foreign interests without registering with the agency.
Seven Democrats wrote Thursday to John Demers, assistant attorney general for the department’s national security division, following news that Giuliani sent a letter in August to Romania’s president attacking an anti-corruption campaign there. Giuliani has acknowledged he was paid to send the letter by a firm run by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who represents one or more wealthy Romanians investigated under the campaign. (Freeh is not registered as a foreign agent.) The former New York mayor’s letter, which contradicts official US policy and drew a rebuke from the State Department, drew attention to what the Democratic senators describe as Giuliani’s “numerous foreign clients and ongoing communications with senior U.S. government officials,” including President Trump. Giuliani has not ended his work for foreign governments, nor has he fully disclosed his client list, even as he advises the president.
The senators note that Giuliani also lobbied to help the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian opposition group, win removal from a State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, and has advocated for regime change in Iran, one of the group’s top goals. His recent clients include the government of Qatar, which is aggressively working to influence Trump, and he has referenced unnamed clients in Colombia and Brazil. Giuliani’s firm, Giuliani Security & Safety, has touted work for governments in Serbia, Ukraine, Chile, Dominica, Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, and El Salvador. Neither the firm nor any of its employees has registered under with the Justice Department. The firm did not respond to requests for comment.
The senators’ letter says Giuliani’s work for the city of Kharkiv, Ukraine, whose mayor is a member of Ukraine’s Party of Regions, is especially concerning. That party, known for a pro-Russia stance, is the organization that employed former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as an advisor and lobbyist between 2006 and 2014. Manafort, convicted last month of tax fraud in connection with that work, and for bank fraud, faces another trial later this month for charges that include failing to register as a lobbyist for the party.
“Mr. Giuliani’s financial connection to the organization, the organization’s close ties with the Russian government, and Mr. Giuliani’s ongoing public advocacy against Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election raises further questions that warrant review,” the senators write.
Giuliani has said he does not believe he is required to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent because he does not directly lobby Trump or the US government. But the FARA law generally requires anyone attempting to influence US policy on behalf of a foreign entity to register with the Justice Department regardless of whether they lobby directly. The senators urged Demers to scrutinize Giuliani’s claims that he does not advocate for clients in private communications with Trump and top White House aides. “Without further review, it is impossible to know whether Mr. Giuliani is lobbying U.S. government officials on behalf of his foreign clients,” they write.
The senators who signed onto the letter are Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).
Read the letter here:
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Amid Ethnic Protests, Iran Warns Of Foreign Meddling
James M. Dorsey, Lobe log, August 21 2018:… Two of Trump’s closest associates, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, attended in June a gathering in Paris of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq. In past years, US participants, including Bolton, were joined by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of the kingdom’s intelligence service and past ambassador to Britain and the …
Amid Ethnic Protests, Iran Warns Of Foreign Meddling
MEK leader Maryam Rajavi and Trump adviser Rudy Giuliani
by James M. Dorsey
Iran has raised the spectre of a US-Saudi effort to destabilize the country by exploiting economic grievances against the backdrop of circumstantial evidence that Washington and Riyadh are playing with scenarios for stirring unrest among the Islamic republic’s ethnic minorities.
Iran has witnessed minority Azeri and Iranian Arab protests in soccer stadiums while the country’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has reported clashes with Iraq-based Iranian Kurdish insurgents.
State-run television warned in a primetime broadcast that foreign agents could turn legitimate protests stemming from domestic anger at the government’s mismanagement of the economy and corruption into “incendiary calls for regime change” by inciting violence that would provoke a crackdown by security forces and give the United States fodder to tackle Iran.
“The ordinary protesting worker would be hapless in the face of such schemes, uncertain how to stop his protest from spiralling into something bigger, more radical, that he wasn’t calling for,” journalist Azadeh Moaveni quoted in a series of tweets the broadcast as saying.
The warning stroked with the Trump administration’s strategy to escalate the protests that have been continuing for months and generate the kind of domestic pressure that would force Iran to concede by squeezing it economically with the imposition of harsh sanctions.
US officials, including President Donald J. Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton, a long-time proponent of Iranian regime change, have shied away from declaring that they were seeking a change of government, but have indicated that they hoped sanctions would fuel economic discontent.
The Trump administration, after withdrawing in May from the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, this month targeted Iranian access to US dollars, trade in gold and other precious metals, and the sale to Iran of auto parts, commercial passenger aircraft, and related parts and services. A second round of sanctions in November is scheduled to restrict oil and petrochemical products.
“The pressure on the Iranian economy is significant… We continue to see demonstrations and riots in cities and towns all around Iran showing the dissatisfaction the people feel because of the strained economy.” Bolton said as the first round of sanctions took effect.
Bolton insisted that US policy was to put “unprecedented pressure” on Iran to change its behaviour”, not change the regime.
The implication of his remarks resembled Israeli attitudes three decades ago when officials argued that if the Palestine Liberation Organization were to recognize Israel it would no longer be the PLO but the PPLO, Part of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
In other words, the kind of policy changes the Trump administration is demanding, including an end to its ballistic program and support for regional proxies, by implication would have to involve regime change.
A string of recent, possibly unrelated incidents involving Iran’s ethnic minorities coupled with various other events could suggest that the United States and Saudi Arabia covertly are also playing with separate plans developed in Washington and Riyadh to destabilize Iran by stirring unrest among non-Persian segments of the Islamic republic’s population.
Bolton last year before assuming office drafted at the request of Trump’s then strategic advisor, Steve Bannon, a plan that envisioned US support “for the democratic Iranian opposition,” “Kurdish national aspirations in Iran, Iraq and Syria,” and assistance for Baloch in the Pakistani province of Balochistan and Iran’s neighbouring Sistan and Balochistan province as well as Iranian Arabs in the oil-rich Iranian province of Khuzestan.
A Saudi think tank, believed to be backed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, called in 2017 in a study for Saudi support for a low-level Baloch insurgency in Iran. Prince Mohammed vowed around the same time that “we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”
Pakistani militants have claimed that Saudi Arabia has stepped up funding of militant madrassas or religious seminaries in Balochistan that allegedly serve as havens for anti-Iranian fighters.
The head of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs met in Washington in June with Mustafa Hijri, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), before assuming his new post as counsel general in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said last weekend that they had killed ten militants near the Iranian border with Iraq. “A well-equipped terrorist group … intending to infiltrate the country from the border area of Oshnavieh to foment insecurity and carry out acts of sabotage was ambushed and at least 10 terrorists were killed in a heavy clash,” the Guards said.
The KDPI has recently stepped up its attacks in Iranian Kurdistan, killing nine people weeks before Hijri’s meeting with Fagin. Other Kurdish groups have reported similar attacks. Several Iranian Kurdish groups are discussing ways to coordinate efforts to confront the Iranian regime.
Similarly, this weekend’s ethnic soccer protests are rooted in a history of football unrest in the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and Khuzestan that reflect long-standing economic and environmental grievances but also at times at least in oil-rich Khuzestan potentially had Saudi fingerprints on them.
Video clips of Azeri supporters of Tabriz-based Traktor Sazi FC chanting ‘Death to the Dictator” in Tehran’s Azadi stadium during a match against Esteghlal FC went viral on social media after a live broadcast on state television was muted to drown the protest out. A sports commentator blamed the loss of sound on a network disruption.
A day earlier, Iranian Arab fans clashed with security forces in a stadium in the Khuzestan capital of Ahwaz during a match between local team Foolad Khuzestan FC and Tehran’s Persepolis FC. The fans reportedly shouted slogans reaffirming their Arab identity.
Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs have a long history of encouraging Iranian Arab opposition and troubling the minority’s relations with the government.
Iranian distrust of the country’s Arab minority has been further fuelled by the fact that the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran or Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), a controversial exiled opposition group that enjoys the support of prominent serving and former Western officials, including some in the Trump administration, has taken credit for a number of the protests in Khuzestan. The group advocates the violent overthrow of the regime in Tehran.
Two of Trump’s closest associates, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and former House speaker Newt Gingrich, attended in June a gathering in Paris of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq.
In past years, US participants, including Bolton, were joined by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former head of the kingdom’s intelligence service and past ambassador to Britain and the United States, who is believed to often echo views that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman prefers not to voice himself.
“The mullahs must go, the ayatollah must go, and they must be replaced by a democratic government which Madam Rajavi represents. Freedom is right around the corner … Next year I want to have this convention in Tehran,” Giuliani told this year’s rally, referring to Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the Mujahedeen who is a cult figure to the group.
Republished, with permission, from The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.
Iran’s Writing on the Wall: Ethnic Minorities and Others Assert Themselves
James Dorsey, Huffington Post, June 05 2015:… Though building a cult-like culture around its leaders, the late Massoud Rajavi and his wife and successor, Maryam Rajavi, the inroads made by the Mujahedeen in capitals across the globe is reflected in the extraordinary line-up of speakers for a mass rally in Paris this month. Speakers include former …
Iran’s Writing on the Wall: Ethnic Minorities and Others Assert Themselves
Recent months have witnessed a series of unrelated, nationwide protests in Iran by teachers demanding salary hikes as well as ethnic groups decrying government abuse and calling for greater rights. With the exception of the teachers, most of the protests erupted spontaneously sparked by incidents as well as pent-up anger and frustration.
The protests potentially signal that Iran is not immune to the winds of change blowing across the Middle East and North Africa that is locked in multiple, often bloody conflicts between social and political forces demanding political change and conservative governments determined to cling to the status quo.
To be sure, Iran’s territorial integrity unlike that of Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya is not being called into question. Iran in contrast to many other nations in the region boasts a strong state, rooted institutions, an imperial history and a culture that dates back thousands of years.
In addition, a majority of Iranians anticipate significant benefits from a lifting of crippling sanctions, which has created expectations that the government of President Hassan Rouhani will have to carefully manage. Notwithstanding Rouhani’s effort to reduce government interference in people’s lives and loosen internet restrictions, Iranians “want to be able to use credit cards and transfer funds, and they wonder when they will catch a direct flight to JFK(New York’s John F Kennedy Airport) or LAX,( Los Angeles International Airport)” noted American scholar Ann Lesch after a recent visit to the Islamic republic.
Complicating the government’s need to manage and meet expectations once sanctions are lifted is a greater restiveness among ethnic minorities in provinces like Sistan and Balochistan, predominantly Azeri East Azerbaijan, Arabs in Khuzestan and primarily Kurdish West Azerbaijan. Demands for greater social, economic and cultural rights are being expounded by opposition groups operating largely from exile among which the controversial Mujahedeen-e-Khalq has been the most prominent. It is difficult to independently assess what impact these groups have.
Nonetheless, the Mujahedeen who have sought to associate themselves with the teacher protests as well as protests on the soccer pitch in the oil-rich Khuzestan capital of Ahwaz, has successfully got itself taken off US and European terrorism lists. The group has won endorsements from an impressive list of Western politicians and former senior government officials and military commanders on both sides of the Atlantic despite its controversial history of targeting US officials and assets in Iran in the 1970s, and siding with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war after it was expelled from France in 1986.
Though building a cult-like culture around its leaders, the late Massoud Rajavi and his wife and successor, Maryam Rajavi, the inroads made by the Mujahedeen in capitals across the globe is reflected in the extraordinary line-up of speakers for a mass rally in Paris this month.
Speakers include former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Hugh Shelton, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former CIA director James Woolsey, former US Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, former French defence and foreign minister Michelle Alliot-Marie, former Canadian prime minister ‘Kim’ Campbell, former Algerian prime minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Italian foreign minister Giulio Tertzi and a host of other luminaries from the United Nations and the European Commission.
The Mujahedeen appear to have focused on the demonstrations by teachers in a host of Iranian cities as well as Khuzestan where the group publicized recent protests on the soccer pitch at a time of rising Arab-Iranian tensions over the status of Shiite Muslim communities in the Arab world, the crisis in Yemen, and the outlines of a multilateral agreement that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and return the Islamic republic to the fold of the international community.
Ethnic Arabs have long complained that the government has failed to reinvest oil profits to raise the region’s standards of living. The World Health Organization (WHO) identified Ahwaz in 2013 as Iran’s most polluted city. Authorities distributed in February tens of thousands of surgical masks and more than 26,000 gallons of milk in Ahvaz, a city of more than one million, when it was hit by a severe sand storm that forced the closure of schools and offices, the cancellation of flights, and prompted scattered protests. Some Arab commentators have called for Iranian Arabs to secede from the Islamic republic.
Similarly, exiled East Azerbaijani nationalist groups got on the bandwagon of anti-government protests in Tabriz earlier this month that erupted after Traktor Sazi FC, one of Iran’s top clubs and a symbol of Iranian Azeri identity was allegedly duped in a Premier League final to prevent it from emerging as champion. The incident was the latest of a number of overtly nationalist protests in recent years initially sparked by environmental grievances that carried secessionist undertones.
The protests in East Azerbaijan and Khuzestan like a riot in Kurdish West Azerbaijan earlier this month, exposed the gap between the government in Tehran and various ethnic communities. Riots erupted in the majority Kurdish city of Mahabad after a 25-year old hotel maid died jumping from a fourth floor balcony as she tried to escape from an intelligence official allegedly trying to rape her.
Iranian Kurds concede that hopes that the riot will ignite a wider spread protest are likely to prove wishful thinking with Kurdish groups hopelessly divided at a time that Kurds in Iraq and Syria have carved out entities of their own and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) negotiates greater rights for Kurds in Turkey with the government in Ankara. A prominent Istanbul-based Iranian Kurdish academic, Abbas Vali, is quoted by al-Monitor as saying: “All of these parties are frozen in the past and completely dependent on the Iraqi Kurds. They made no effort to create a clandestine movement inside Iran, believing that the regime would implode. Their calculation proved to be wrong.”
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies as Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, co-director of the Institute of Fan Culture of the University of Würzburg and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, and a forthcoming book with the same title.
Trump has tough sell recruiting Iranian-Americans in campaign against Tehran
Nahal Toosi, Politico, July 20 2018:… One Iranian diaspora faction that has supported many Trump policies is the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a group with leftist roots that the U.S. previously listed as a terrorist outfit. But the MEK has few backers in Iran, even though it has major defenders among Trump’s aides and confidants. Among those who’ve spoken at MEK events are Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton. It’s not …
Trump has tough sell recruiting Iranian-Americans in campaign against Tehran
Divisions in the community and opposition to the administration’s travel ban face Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he addresses leaders this weekend.
By NAHAL TOOSI
As President Donald Trump looks for ways to pressure the Islamist government in Tehran, he is seeking the support of Iranian-Americans in the U.S. — even though his administration has barred their Iranian relatives from visiting, imposed sanctions on their ancestral homeland and is suspected of sidelining an Iranian-American official partly due to her heritage.
Prominent members of the Iranian-American community have been invited to a gathering on Sunday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Simi Valley, California, where he will deliver a speech, titled “Supporting Iranian Voices,” and engage in a Q&A, according to the State Department.
The unusual outreach to Iranian-Americans is a facet of a ramped-up public diplomacy campaign the Trump team is pursuing as part of a broader, if still fuzzy, strategy on Iran, a country that the White House maintains is a major threat to America and its Middle East allies.
Already, the administration has issued 12 demands of Iran’s clerical leaders, a list so broad that some analysts say it amounts to a call for regime change. The administration has also increased its use of social media targeting Iranians, using Twitter and other platforms to cheer on protests in Iran, highlight the government’s economic mismanagement and, especially lately, challenge its abuse of human rights.
In a May speech in which he unveiled the 12 demands, Pompeo promised that the Trump administration would “advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people,” adding: “The regime must improve how it treats its citizens.”
But trying to get Iranian-Americans on board with Trump’s agenda will be a tricky task.
Iranian-Americans, while generally well-educated, economically well-off and unhappy with the government in Tehran, hold diverse political views. Many support gradual reform in Iran and disdain what they see as Trump’s ethnic and religious chauvinism. Some support a change of leadership and are happy to see a U.S. president stand up to the clerics in Tehran. There are monarchists and hard-core secularists among them. And many simply try to avoid politics altogether.
“I don’t think that anyone in U.S. politics really understands the fractures in the Iranian-American community,” said Kia Hamadanchy, an Iranian-American from California who recently mounted an unsuccessful Democratic bid for Congress. “But I do think it is smart for the administration, as public relations, to seek Iranian-American voices who support their policies, even if their policies are wrong-headed or dumb and not supported by the majority in the community.”
The divisions have become apparent in recent days as prominent Iranian-Americans have debated among themselves whether to accept the invitations to the Pompeo speech.
The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans told POLITICO that some of its representatives would attend. PAAIA stressed that it disagreed with many of the administration’s policies, including Trump’s decision to scuttle the nuclear agreement, which gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Still, “it’s important for Iranian-Americans to have a direct line of communication with officials that create and implement policy that affects our community,” the group said in a statement.
The National Iranian American Council, on the other hand, said its staff appeared to have been blackballed by the administration and that it might stage protests against Pompeo’s speech. The organization, a major defender of the Iran nuclear deal whose leaders have vociferously criticized Trump, has not gone so far as to urge Iranian-Americans to decline the invitation.
But it is warning them not to get used as props.
“Just as the Bush administration cultivated a few Iraqi exiles and talked about human rights to provide legitimacy for a disastrous invasion of Iraq,” the group said, “the Trump administration appears intent on using Iranian exiles to advance dangerous policies that will leave the Iranian people as its primary victims.”
Sunday’s event is being held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs. A State Department spokesman said Pompeo would take questions from the audience, although an invitation to the gathering indicated that questions must be submitted in advance.
The audience is not limited to Iranian-Americans, and lawmakers are expected to be among the attendees. Choosing to hold the event in California, however, is logical given the large number of the state’s residents with Iranian ancestry, estimated in the hundreds of thousands at least.
The State Department declined to say who among the Iranian diaspora it had invited, but the guest list appears to include a range of activists, analysts and business leaders, as well as representatives of the Iranian-American Jewish community and other minority groups.
An Iranian-American community organizer said invitees had been assured there would be an opportunity to talk to Pompeo and other administration officials beyond the speech and Q&A. The invitations sent to the Iranian-Americans include an after-program dinner.
Some Iranian exiles targeted by the Islamist government have also been invited, although it’s not clear how many will attend. They include Masih Alinejad, who has fought the Iranian leadership’s rules mandating that women wear headscarves and who recently released a book about her efforts.
Alinejad won’t attend because she doesn’t want her cause to be affiliated with any political faction, said Nazee Moinian, a well-connected Iranian-American consultant who spoke on Alinejad’s behalf.
Moinian, who is Jewish and advised Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign on Iran policy, plans to attend. She noted the diverse views held by Iranian-Americans but maintained that the “common denominator for all who are going is that they know this regime in Tehran does not serve the interests of the Iranian people.”
Others who plan to attend said they were doing so partly out of curiosity, even if they are deeply unhappy with some Trump administration policies on Iran.
The travel ban in particular has galled Iranian-Americans. The ban covers a handful of mainly Muslim countries, but Iranians are the largest group affected. Trump says the ban is an anti-terrorism measure, but, although it has some exceptions, the way the administration has implemented it has effectively kept out of the U.S. numerous ordinary Iranians, including some who’d hoped to go to college here and many who simply wanted to visit relatives.
Opponents of the travel ban say it is a cruel, bigoted and hypocritical policy by an administration that insists it cares about the people of Iran.
“If the administration really cared about the human rights of Iranians, it would lift the travel ban,” said one Iranian-American who plans to attend Pompeo’s speech but asked not to be identified by name.
Iranian-American activists have also been troubled by other moves the Trump administration has made that smack of discrimination against Muslims or others from the Middle East.
One case that caught the community’s attention was that of Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, an accomplished U.S. civil servant who was pushed out of a top State Department position after discussions among Trump administration officials that included the false assertion that she was born in Iran. Nowrouzzadeh was also attacked by the conservative media, which questioned her loyalty to Trump and her role in helping craft the Iran nuclear deal.
Most Iranian-Americans, according to surveys commissioned by PAAIA, supported keeping the nuclear deal, which was negotiated under President Barack Obama.
Trump’s decision to scrap the agreement, and thus reimpose sanctions, has many Iranian-Americans worried about the effect those sanctions will have on ordinary Iranians who already deal with a shaky economy. But, anecdotally at least, some hope that the sanctions will help prompt the collapse of the clerical leadership, and they point to recent protests in Iran as signs of the strain.
One Iranian diaspora faction that has supported many Trump policies is the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a group with leftist roots that the U.S. previously listed as a terrorist outfit. But the MEK has few backers in Iran, even though it has major defenders among Trump’s aides and confidants. Among those who’ve spoken at MEK events are Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton.
It’s not clear whether anyone affiliated with the controversial group has been invited to Pompeo’s speech. A spokesman for the MEK did not respond to a request for comment.
Some Iranian-Americans, meanwhile, support restoring the monarchy in Iran, whose shah fled amid the late-1970s revolution that brought the Islamists to power. Reza Pahlavi, the son of the late shah, lives in the U.S. and describes himself as an advocate for secular democracy in Iran. His office said on Wednesday that it is aware of the event and that Pahlavi “supports and encourages” such dialogue. It did not say whether Pahlavi was invited.
Among those hoping to attend is Goli Ameri, an Iranian-American businesswoman who served as an assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs during the administration of George W. Bush.
“We are fortunate to call a country home that respects and solicits the voice of its citizens,” Ameri said.
Pompeo and Trump Plan to Exploit and Silence Iranian Americans
National Iranian American Council (NIAC), Washington, D.C. July 17 2018:… It should be abundantly clear that Secretary Pompeo, who called for bombing Iran instead of negotiations, is no friend of the Iranian people. Similarly, Trump – whose national security advisor and lawyer have elevated the voices of an undemocratic, human rights abusing cult, the MEK, to become the next leadership of Iran – does not have the Iranian …
Pompeo and Trump Plan to Exploit and Silence Iranian Americans
Washington, D.C. – Jamal Abdi, the Vice President for Policy of the National Iranian American Council, issued the following statement in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that he will address Iranian Americans in Simi Valley later this month:
“The quest for human rights and democracy in Iran can only be owned by the Iranian people. It cannot be owned by the U.S., Israel, or Saudi Arabia. It cannot be decided by Iran’s government or even Iranian exiles.
“What President Trump and Secretary Pompeo want is to exploit Iranian Americans and co-opt the Iranian people to provide legitimacy for the Trump Administration’s Iraq War redux for Iran. Just as the Bush Administration cultivated a few Iraqi exiles and talked about human rights to provide legitimacy for a disastrous invasion of Iraq, the Trump Administration appears intent on using Iranian exiles to advance dangerous policies that will leave the Iranian people as its primary victims.
“If Sec. Pompeo really wants the Iranian-American community to embrace the Trump agenda, he must start with a sincere apology and rescind Trump’s ban that is dividing Iranian Americans from their friends and loved ones in Iran. He should apologize for the Administration’s move to banish the most prominent Iranian-American national security official from policymaking decisions due to her heritage. Moreover, he should apologize for the decision to strip the Iranian people of their hope for relief from sanctions and greater connections with the outside world, instead ensuring they will be crushed between U.S. sanctions and resurgent hardline forces in Iran’s government that have benefited from Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear accord.
“It should be abundantly clear that Secretary Pompeo, who called for bombing Iran instead of negotiations, is no friend of the Iranian people. Similarly, Trump – whose national security advisor and lawyer have elevated the voices of an undemocratic, human rights abusing cult, the MEK, to become the next leadership of Iran – does not have the Iranian people’s best interests at heart. The Trump Administration’s close coordination with Benjamin Netanyahu and Mohammad Bin Salman, who are motivated by their own political gain and regional power dynamics rather than any love for democracy or the Iranian people, should dispel any notion this campaign is about helping ordinary Iranians.
“As Americans, we have a vital role to play in ensuring our democratically elected government does not start wars on false pretenses or destroy lives in our names. As Iranian Americans, our voices are particularly vital when it comes to the U.S. government’s efforts regarding our ancestral homeland. We will not be exploited or silenced at this critical moment in history.”
National Geographic, March 04 2017:… Leading MEK members squirm under the knowing gaze of Michael Ware. Watch the shifty looks and glances as the MEK representatives try to lie about their true intentions. They admit to wanting regime change, but claim to be pacifists. Ware asks ‘Why does a political organization still need to have a para-military organization?’ He then cleverly gets them to …
Associated Press, February 16 2017:… The group at one point successfully infiltrated the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, according to a State Department report. And a series of bombings attributed to the MEK accompanied visits by presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter to Iran, including one to target an American cultural center. In 1973, MEK assailants wearing motorcycle helmets shot dead U.S. Army Lt. …
Iran Interlink, February 15 2017:… The following OpEd by MEK advocate Col. Wes Martin was published first in The Hill, followed by Mojahedin Khalq’s “Iran Probe” and the “NCRI” websites. Iran Interlink has published it here as indication of how hysteria has become the new normal in American published writing. A form of madness appears to have infected US politics and now all and sundry are dancing …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, February 07 2017:… He also signals that his war is not with ISIS but with the country Iran. Donald Trump rose to victory in part on the promise to take on ISIS and defeat the group. Yet ISIS cannot be defeated except by a coalition of forces that includes Iran. The facts on the ground in Syria and Iraq demonstrate unequivocally that ISIS forces in Aleppo and Mosul have been defeated largely due to the involvement
Gazeta Impakt, Albania, Translated by Iran Interlink, January 01 2017:… According to Fatos Klosi, former director of the National Intelligence Service, the American CIA chief has warned Albania that Donald Trump will renounce support for the MEK terrorists and it will be the Albanian Government itself which must deal with internal security and must confront a group trained militarily from the time of Saddam Hussein …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, December 24 2016:… That can only happen if journalists and investigatory bodies (human rights, nuclear experts, war crimes, etc) are able to base their work on facts and not the fake and fictionalised fantasies of stooges like the MEK, which are clearly designed to misinform on these issues. The information laundry cycle is not difficult to follow – the Washington Times takes its report …
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, November 12 2016:… In particular, Rudi Giuliani, John Bolton and Newt Gingrich. Putting aside their weak personalities as well as their individual neoconservative agendas, the common thread which links these names together is their decade long support for the Mojahedin Khalq terrorist organisation (also known as Saddam’s Private Army or Rajavi cult). It is certain that …
Iran Interlink, October 30 2016:… Local observers in Tirana are reporting that the Mojahedin Khalq cultic terror group (MEK) is buying and creating several sandwich and kebab shops in the city and is using the MEK members to work in these fast-food businesses. On the surface this may look like a positive move. In an article titled ‘Albania: What would a de-radicalization program for the Mojahedin Khalq involve’, it was …
Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Iran Interlink, October 16 2016:… In spite of American promises, no de-radicalisation programme is in place to deal with over 2500 members of the Mojahedin Khalq terrorist group who have relocated to Tirana from Iraq. The MEK has a long history of violent and criminal activity. This has not stopped now they are in Tirana. Unless the Albanian government introduces its own programme, it must accept …
Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington post (and Top Topic), October 09 2016:… For the local citizens, mystery surrounds their arrival and their lifestyle. Should these secretive and covert neighbours be treated with suspicion or kindness? At a local level, the first thing neighbouring families need to be aware of is that among all MEK members, sexual relations have been banned for over 25 years. This means there are no marriages or children or young people in the organisation. More troubling …
Massoud & Anne Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, July 14 2016:… Whether Rajavi is already dead or now killable is not known – only he can answer this – but he and his whole organisation are certainly now, body and soul, in the capable hands of the Saudi Prince. If he is still alive, Rajavi’s only role is to act as go-between to instruct his wife what she must do on behalf of the Saudis. If he is dead
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post, July 08 2016:… Clearly this message is not aimed at Iranians. The clamour for regime change in Iran does not emanate from inside the country in spite of its many social, civic and political problems. Who then is Maryam Rajavi’s constituency? Fro