Iran Interlink from Asieh Namdar, CGTN, August 22 2019:… AN: Let me move on to Bolton and Giuliani, Rudi Giuliani’s relationship with this group, that calls itself an opposition group. Many inside Iran have deep distrust of the MEK. They consider it a cult. Giuliani and Bolton have taken payments from this group. Members of Trump’s inner circle though Ambassador seem to believe MEK could potentially become the country’s future leader.. JL: Well, I guess, if you liked Jonestown, and if you liked the Khmer Rouge, you would love the MEK. That’s the way I see them. I mean, if it wasn’t for . Amb. John Limbert on Iran and the U.S.
Amb. John Limbert on Iran and the U.S. – Transcription
Amb. John Limbert on Iran and the U.S. policy of maximum pressure | FULL INTERVIEW
Interviewed by Asieh Namdar
Transcription by Iran Interlink
The Trump Administration says it’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran is working, and its leadership is weakening. Part of that campaign – includes abandoning the 2015 nuclear agreement – which president trump called “the worst deal ever.” Since then, the U.S. has reimposed economic sanctions on Iran – and sanctioned its top diplomat, Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
One veteran U.S. diplomat says sanctions are not the answer.
Asieh Namdar sat down with Ambassador John Limbert – who worked and lived in Iran – and was one of the 52 American Hostages taken captive at the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
They discussed everything from the current US policy on Iran, the need for diplomacy, and his memories as a hostage 40 years ago.
FULL INTERVIEW. TRANSCRIPTION BY IRAN INTERLINK
Amb. John Limbert on Iran and the U.S. policy of maximum pressure
Asieh Namdar: John, first of all, thanks for being here and talking to us. I want to start by getting your reaction to recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In an Op-Ed in USA Today he basically said the maximum pressure campaign is working in Iran, and it’s weakening the regime. Is there any sign that Iran has changed its malign behavior since the maximum pressure campaign by this administration started?
John Limbert: Not at all. But in politics, never underestimate the capacity of people to delude themselves. And to believe what they want to believe. After all, this is Secretary Pompeo’s policy so he’s not going to say it’s not working. He is hardly what you call a disinterested judge in a case like this. So, he has the policy. He says it’s working. The reality is, you always have to make a distinction between what is true, and what you want to be true. And in this case, since Secretary Pompeo wants his policy to be true, to be working, he says it’s working. He’s hardly, as I said, he’s hardly the most disinterested judge of that fact.
AN: So the Trump administration withdrew from this landmark nuclear agreement, unilaterally, and their argument was it does not address Iran’s ballistic missile program, it does not address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, and they had many, many issues with this agreement. President Trump called it “the worst deal ever”, “a disaster”. Do they have a point, that any agreement between world powers and Iran should include Iran’s ballistic missile programme and its destabilizing activities?
JL: Well they might have a point. But, that’s all smokescreen. President Trump’s problem with the nuclear agreement, the JCPOA – I don’t call it a deal because deals are when you buy and sell used cars – but his problem with the agreement has nothing to do with what’s in it. He could negotiate another deal which would be objectively ten times worse, and he would say it was better because he did it. The problem is his obsession with his predecessor, it’s obvious. He is obsessed with Obama, and the specter of Obama just haunts him, every day. And so he’s sold himself – and this worked for him in the election campaign – as the world’s greatest negotiator. And whatever deal anyone else made, particularly his predecessor, he was going to do better. And, as far as the contents of the deal, I don’t think he cares less. I mean, when they negotiated it, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Moniz on the American side, and others, and the Iranians, they knew very well what they were doing. And they deliberately limited the scope of this because once you start introducing other things, you make reaching an agreement that much harder. A colleague of mine once said, “if you negotiate everything, you agree on nothing”.
AN: Hm, interesting. Let me move on to foreign minister Javad Zarif. The Trump administration recently sanctioned him, but they insist they are still seeking diplomacy with Iran and some kind of resolution. But yet, they sanctioned the man in charge of diplomacy. What is the reasoning, what is the thinking, what is it that they are trying to accomplish with this move?
JL: I really don’t know. It’s very unclear, beyond feeling good. There doesn’t seem to be any purpose. There doesn’t seem to be any goal. Perhaps, in the case of foreign minister Zarif, he’s collateral damage for Trump and company’s dislike of the nuclear deal. After all, he was one of the main negotiators on the Iranian side. After all, the administration can’t do anything to Obama, they can’t do anything to Secretary Kerry, they can’t do anything to Secretary Moniz, but they can do something to Zarif. Can I say it in Persian – dastishoon be Obama nemirese, ama dastishoon be Zarif mirese – they can do something to Zarif. So, he’s a symbol of something that Obama did. And maybe it’s not personal, I don’t know. The other problem he has, the other problem I think they have with him is that he’s just effective. He may have a bad case, he represents a government that I don’t particularly like, and not a lot of people like, but he does an effective job as a professional. And that, I think, riles this administration. They don’t like it because he shows them up for, frankly, the amateurs and the incompetents that they are.
AN: What do you make of reports that Zarif was actually invited to go to the White House and meet with the U.S. president and he declined that invitation, and then a few weeks later he was faced with these sanctions?
JL: I don’t know if Zarif himself declined it or probably he had to refer –
AN: Was that a mistake. If it’s true, should Zarif have gone to the White House?
JL: Under those circumstances it’s hard to see how he can accept, because the administration, he knows the administration would most likely say – it would not remain secret, it would become public – and the administration would point to this and say ‘look, our policy of maximum pressure, our policy of sanctions, our hostility to Iran, is working. And they have given in, in the sense that their foreign minister now has agreed to come to the White House. They would use that as a symbol. I don’t know why the Iranians would buy into that.
AN: What needs to happen Ambassador, to get Iran and the United States on the right track?
JL: The simplest thing – and it’s the most complicated thing at the same time – is to get back to the practice of diplomacy. You know the U.S. and Iran haven’t practiced diplomacy with each other for forty years. The U.S. and Iran have shouted at, we’ve yelled at each other a lot. We’ve made accusations, we’ve called each other names, but the practice of diplomacy has somehow been forgotten. It’s like a toolbox that sits in the garage and gets rusty. Nobody knows how to use it anymore. We’ve got to go back to it. So, for example, name calling, I’d put that aside. I noticed, for example, the State Department’s official Twitter account used a very vulgar name against Zarif, called him ‘malekesh’, which is in Persian not very polite and has some even worse undertones beyond its literal meaning. Well, you ask yourself, that’s not diplomacy. This is an official U.S. government statement that uses this very coarse name. Now, somebody has to start, has to provide adult supervision. You know, we’re not in The Lord of the Flies here. There has to be adult supervision. Somebody has to say ‘no, no, that’s not acceptable’. Words like, phrases, words have power Asieh, we all know this. Phrases like ‘change their behaviour’. That’s not diplomacy.
AN: And ‘death to America’?
JL: ‘Death to America’ is not diplomacy either. And all this stuff plays into the most virulent strains of anti-Americanism in Tehran, because people can say ‘look, we told you you can’t trust these people, we told you this, we told you that, Ayatollah Khomeini was right when he said ‘why do we want to negotiate with America? What does the wolf have to negotiate with the sheep?’ That plays into it and the Iranians on their side have also not been very skilled at their diplomacy. And so basically, what people need to do maybe is step back, take a deep breath, and say, ‘how do we do this differently? How do we talk to each other?’ I mean, sending Rand Paul for example to New York to talk to Zarif. That’s a good idea. That’s smart. But where do you go. One meeting like that doesn’t change the dynamics, doesn’t change the atmosphere. How do you follow it up? And the idea that from that one meeting you would get Zarif coming to the White House, though nothing has changed, I think that’s a delusion.
AN: Let me move on to Bolton and Giuliani, Rudi Giuliani’s relationship with this group, that calls itself an opposition group. Many inside Iran have deep distrust of the MEK. They consider it a cult. Giuliani and Bolton have taken payments from this group. Members of Trump’s inner circle though Ambassador seem to believe MEK could potentially become the country’s future leader.
JL: Well, I guess, if you liked Jonestown, and if you liked the Khmer Rouge, you would love the MEK. That’s the way I see them. I mean, if it wasn’t for –
AN: Why are they so hated by Iranians. If you go to – because Americans don’t know anything about this group, beside the fact they used to be on the U.S. terrorism list and were taken off.
JL: The Iranians know who they are. And all this talk of democracy and secularism, they know is a smokescreen. I mean, the current, the Islamic Republic and the people ruling it, they may be brutal and inept and repressive, but perhaps they killed by the hundreds. MEK is Stalinist basically. They would kill by the millions. There’s no question about it. The other thing was, they fought on the side of the Iraqis in the war. How can Iranians forgive that? That’s right. Even if you don’t like the Islamic Republic, even if you hate the Islamic Republic, you’re not going to accept that. And the idea that these people are a viable alternative is absolutely ridiculous. Now, if it wasn’t for people like Bolton and Giuliani and others who shill for these guys, they would be just an odd footnote of history. This strange group which has transformed itself six or seven times and now is this cult like business with parts of Marxism and Islam and Feminism and Cultism and Cult of the Leader and so forth and so on, it would just be a footnote. But the other part of it’s interesting from the American side is they not only have support from the Republicans, from the right, they have support from the left. I guess basically it’s money.
AN: Let me move on to the 1979 Revolution. You were a young diplomat. You had just arrived in Iran a few weeks before. The embassy takeover happens. Tell me what went through your mind. Did you know what was happening? And despite being held in that embassy in 1979 for four hundred and forty four days Ambassador, I don’t detect one iota of bitterness from you.
JL: Bitterness against whom Asieh?
AN: The Islamic Republic, the students who took you hostage.
JL: Oh no. I don’t like them very much. They’re not my favourite people. I don’t like the Islamic Republic very much. It’s not a place I would choose to live. Not that many of my friends, or your compatriots or my relatives have had much of a choice as to where they live or what kind of government they have. But remember, my roots with Iran go back a long way, they go way back before the Revolution, back to 1962, before you were born.
AN: And you’re married to an Iranian.
JL: And my wife is Iranian. And they are very proud – I mean she’s very proud to be Iranian. She’s not one of these people who go around saying ‘I’m a Persian, I’m not an Iranian’. As though being Persian associates you with carpets and cats –
AN: And caviar!
JL: And caviar. Maz Jobrani likes to say “it puts the purr back into Persian”. No, she’s very proud to be an Iranian, very proud of her culture, this great culture, this great civilization. And it’s there and, you know, the fact that a group of young people, students, did what they did. And the fact that those people who were responsible, who should have taken action against them, but didn’t, it doesn’t change two thousand years of history and civilization. If you look back at Iranian history, there’s been some pretty horrible things that have happened. Much worse than what the Islamic Republic has come up with.
AN: Did you know what was going on at that point? And tell me about your brief encounter with now Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Clearly, way back when, he wasn’t the Supreme Leader, the Revolution was just starting. So tell us a little bit more about that.
JL: I applied the Persian proverb ‘sar ba panbe boridan’, I wanted to cut off his head with cotton. Meaning, I had a point to make. I didn’t abuse him. I didn’t yell at him – it was tempting maybe to do so – but what was the point? So, what we did, maybe even without thinking about it, we fell into this Iranian, very Iranian interaction of host and guest. He was visiting me, so I was his host. And as a host, I had obligations to him. As a guest, he had obligations to me. So I insisted, for example, that he sit down. I apologised I had nothing to offer him to eat or drink, because a host always has to do that. And I fell into the role of host and he fell into the role of guest. Because people are hardwired that way. My point though was very serious, which was ‘look, I know how to take care of a guest in my home. This is my temporary home, but it’s my home. You do not. You have abused thousands of years of your own tradition and culture by mistreating a guest – for whose safety you are responsible. Now, Iranians, Asieh as you know, you’re like us, there’s no difference. People do good things, they do bad things, they do outrageous things, they do wonderful things. But one thing I had never, ever seen an Iranian do was to mistreat a guest. Well, what they were doing was outrageous. And I used the word ‘taarof’, I used this word about courtesies and customs and I said you have abused it. Iranians are hospitable people, but this is beyond the pale. I didn’t use the word disgraceful, but he understood it, and I think he’s a smart person, I know he’s a smart person, and he understood immediately. And that was shown on Iranian television at the time. I didn’t know it. But after I got out, people told me about it. And they said, you know, we really appreciated what you did.
AN: Finally Ambassador, a hypothetical question. If U.S. president Donald Trump called you up on the phone and said ‘Ambassador, you know Iran inside and out, you’ve been a diplomat, you’ve served your country well, you’re married to an Iranian, you understand the culture, you understand the politics, you understand the traditions, you understand the sensitivities, what kind of advice would you give the president if he asked you how this administration needs to change its strategy when it comes to Iran.
JL: First of all, he’s not going to call me on the phone. It’s just not going to happen. Like it or not, I’m identified with the previous administration, and that is the enemy. I mean, Iran maybe an adversary, but president Obama is definitely the enemy. He hasn’t called me up.
AN: But say he does…
JL: On the one millionth of one percent chance that he did, I would say ‘first of all, just cool it’. Iranians have an expression, it’s not very polite but you say ‘to put one’s rear end into a bucket of cold water’
AN: what about sanctions?
JL: Just cool it. And remember we’ve had Iran under sanctions for forty years. And the Islamic Republic is just as hostile as ever. Hasn’t changed very much, hasn’t become more flexible. Don’t delude yourself. And at the end of the day, talk of regime change is not helpful. It just makes people more defensive. The Iranians went through that horrible war with Iraq. They did it essentially alone. And when their back is up, when, like most people, when people’s back is up they get defiant. Don’t delude yourself that more sanctions, maximum pressure, more isolation, this or that, is necessarily going to be effective. And suppose it is. Suppose the dog catches the truck. The dog that chases the truck, what does it do if it catches it? Suppose the whole regime collapses. Then what? Is it going to be any better? We have some examples from around the region that are not very hopeful. There’s no guarantee that things are going to be better. And don’t have any illusions that your national security advisor’s friends in the MEK are going to take over and be welcomed. God forbid if they do take over that things are going to be any better. So, cool the rhetoric. Maybe fire your national security advisor, or at least rein him in. And remember that – this doesn’t just apply to foreign policy or Iran – that your words have power. Measure your words and try diplomacy. I know it’s not in favour very much with this administration, but it works.
AN: Alright, we’ll leave it there. Ambassador John Limbert, thank you so much.
JL: You’re quite welcome.
Amb. John Limbert on Iran and the U.S. – Transcription
John Bolton’s Islamic-Marxist MEK
John Limbert, The American Prospect. June 06 2019:…Mujahedin-e-Khalq organization, or MEK. whose logo features a red star, a Quranic verse, and a rifle, began in the 1960s as so-called “Islamic-Marxists.” With a militant, anti-American reinterpretation of Shia Islam, they fought alongside Ayatollah Khomeini against the Iranian monarchy. Two years after the revolution, the Islamists in Khomeini’s coalition turned on the group and crushed it after bloody street battles and assassinations. And John Bolton goal is clear: the downfall of the Islamic Republic, by war if necessary, and its replacement by his paymasters, the bizarre cultists of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq organization, or MEK. John Bolton’s Islamic-Marxist MEK
John Bolton’s Islamic-Marxist MEK
The Trump Administration’s Iran Fiasco
Pompeo tries to please his boss, while Bolton pursues a corrupt and dangerous escalation.
By JOHN LIMBERT
Until recently, what passed for “Iran policy” in the Trump administration originated in the president’s obsession with his predecessor. If President Barack Obama was going to open dialogue with the Islamic Republic, then this president would shut it down, and return to 40 years of futile exchanges of threats, insults, and accusations.
If President Obama and five other nations made an agreement (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA) to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief, then this president would tear up the agreement, ignore our partners, and impose more sanctions. Trump disliked the JCPOA not because of anything in it, but because Obama had made it, and he—the world’s greatest negotiator—had not.
Trump’s new secretary of state, similarly named to the ill-fated Roman triumvir Pompeius Magnus, understands his chief’s obsessions very well. At a January 2019 speech in Cairo, where ten years earlier President Obama had spoken of a “new beginning” with the Muslim world, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shocked his audience and flattered his boss by publicly trashing Obama’s efforts to find a more productive diplomatic path with Iran. He did the same at a May 11 Claremont Institute event, continuing to denigrate his predecessors’ work and claiming, in a message to State Department employees, that “now we’re back to where we should be—more clear-eyed than ever.”
Pompeo’s pointless fulminating against Iran has at least the motivation of flattering his boss and feeding the president’s fixation with his predecessor. There is no policy goal except to be self-righteous. There are no means except denunciations, ultimatums, and insincere expressions of sympathy for ordinary Iranians. In a strange twist, in a July 2018 Reagan Library event, the secretary accused the Iranian leadership of being a “mafia.” I guess Pompeo doesn’t do irony.
Feeling good and flattering the boss may not be the most worthy objectives of an Iran policy, but they are at least understandable—and have nothing to do with Iran.
Our secretary of state seems to care nothing for history. He shows no knowledge of or interest in what has led to today’s U.S.-Iran impasse, which could now escalate into open warfare through misreading the other side’s actions. Nor is there any sense that diplomacy can achieve what 40 years of chest-beating has not. There is no talk of “open doors,” mutual interest, or win-win outcomes. The only thing offered to Iranians is surrender.
Nor does Pompeo have any appreciation for the ignorance, deception, greed, and self-interest that led the United States into earlier fiascos in Vietnam and Iraq. Those misadventures have done irreparable damage both to those unfortunate countries and to American society. As a West Point graduate and former U.S. Army officer, he should be at least aware of the lies and incompetence that sent his fellow soldiers to Vietnam and killed and maimed so many there. The U.S. Army is famous for conducting “lessons learned” reviews whether operations go well or badly. Was Pompeo paying attention to the session on Vietnam? On Iraq? Is he going to remain silent or be a cheerleader while events with Iran follow a similar path into a swamp?
But one cannot accuse National Security Adviser John Bolton of having no goal with Iran. His goal is clear: the downfall of the Islamic Republic, by war if necessary, and its replacement by his paymasters, the bizarre cultists of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq organization, or MEK.
The group, whose logo features a red star, a Quranic verse, and a rifle, began in the 1960s as so-called “Islamic-Marxists.” With a militant, anti-American reinterpretation of Shia Islam, they fought alongside Ayatollah Khomeini against the Iranian monarchy. Two years after the revolution, the Islamists in Khomeini’s coalition turned on the group and crushed it after bloody street battles and assassinations.
Following those defeats, the MEK transformed itself into a bizarre cult, with an ideology combining the practices of Jonestown and the Khmer Rouge. Today it would be only a historical curiosity with a few aging followers if it had not invested so much and so wisely in Bolton. Despite the MEK’s dubious past, includingterrorism against Americans and support for the 1979–1981 occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, it has an even more dubious present, with welfare fraud, forced divorces, self-criticism sessions, and a range of other cult practices. As odious as it is, its paid shill now occupies one of our country’s highest national-security positions.
The MEK pays its speakers generously. Figures range from $25,000 to 50,000 and sometimes more. Since Bolton, by his own admission, has been speaking for the group for at least ten years, he has made serious money—around $180,000 by one estimate. His most recent financial disclosure includes a $40,000 payment for a 2017 speech he delivered at an MEK rally in Paris.
The group’s success—despite its aberrant beliefs—is testimony to the power of money spread generously. The MEK has bought support from bipartisan quarters. Its paid American cheerleaders include a former House Speaker (Newt Gingrich), a former cabinet secretary (Bill Richardson), retired generals (Jim Jones, Peter Pace), a former mayor of our largest city (Rudy Giuliani), and a former governor of one of our most progressive states (Howard Dean). They have spoken both at rallies in Europe and at events in Washington.
The MEK has made no secret of its goals: to provoke a war between the U.S. and Iran. In the aftermath, it calculates it would move into the wreckage and pick up the pieces.
I recently spoke about the group and its influence to a highly educated audience in Washington—graduates of three of the world’s best universities. Most of the Americans present were unaware of the MEK and its payments to the bellicose national security adviser. All of the Iranian Americans at the meeting, however, knew the group well and detested it. They knew its murderous history in Iran: They knew that in 1979–1980 it supported Iran’s religious extremists in their campaign to silence voices calling for democracy and women’s rights; they knew it called for more executions in the early days of the revolution; they knew it fought alongside the hated Iraqis during the long and bloody Iran-Iraq war; they knew it even launched an armed invasion of Iranian territory in 1988—an invasion stopped with heavy losses.
Although the Iranian Americans present expressed no love for the brutal rulers of the Islamic Republic, they knew that an MEK-ruled Iran would be far worse. It would bring them all the horrors of Stalinism—gulags, one-man (or -woman) rule, confiscations, and executions for being a member of the wrong social class. The current regime has killed thousands. The MEK would kill millions.
By all reports, much of Iran’s population—whatever its view of the Islamic Republic—shares this deep hatred of the MEK. Most Iranians are not deceived by its claims of being democratic. They know its history.
A U.S.-Iran war would inflict heavy damage on Iran’s infrastructure, economy, and population. It would also involve Americans in yet another fiasco in the Middle East. We would again find ourselves in a quagmire that would make Iraq look simple. We should reject the self-serving assumption that military action against Iran will be easy and without cost. It will be neither.
Finally, we must never stop asking, “Who is pushing for war with Iran and why?” The answer should make it very clear we have no business provoking this conflict to serve the interests of an Iranian cult and its paid spokesman.
John Bolton’s Islamic-Marxist MEK