Since the theocratic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in 1979, and under Khomeini’s successors, Iran has consistently out-maneuvered the United States and our allies through a crafty combination of diplomatic manipulation; exploitation of commercial considerations; support for terrorists and kidnappers; the use of proxy agents in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere; and, in recent years, playing the nuclear card.
Earlier this year, we were relieved to see the 15 British sailors and marines return home from their captivity in Iran unharmed. But it is shocking and galling that Iran managed to win a propaganda victory over the West through a brazen act of piracy on the high seas and clear violations of the Geneva Conventions’ rules on the treatment of prisoners.
Also this month, U.S. military commanders have reported that Iran is supplying weapons to both Sunni and Shi’ite militias in Iraq — directly putting our troops at risk of death or serious injury, while causing a terrible toll for thousands of Iraqis on both sides of the Sunni-Shi’ite divide.
And just in the past few days, in utter defiance of the world community, Iranian officials have confirmed that 3,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium are in place at the illicit nuclear facility at Natanz and that the goal is to eventually install 50,000 centrifuges.
These recent developments, on top of Iran’s ongoing efforts to spread its extremist jihadist ideology, have brought us to a crisis point in dealing with the Iranian threat. We need to develop a better strategy to protect our national interests and the security of our friends and allies in the region.
As members of Congress from opposite sides of the aisle, we have been working for years to inject new policy ideas into the U.S. framework for dealing with Iran. It is clear that the United States and the international community must make better use of all the tools at our disposal for dealing with the multiple threats emanating from Iran.
These tools include a range of financial and economic sanctions. Bipartisan legislation is currently pending in Congress to strengthen existing sanctions regimes by preventing new investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector and requiring the divestiture of existing investments. We strongly support our colleagues’ initiatives in these areas. But, to be truly effective, sanctions must be multilateral. Tehran has been able to count on China and Russia to push for the weakening of measures proposed by the United States.
The official U.S. line regarding our policy toward Iran is that “all options are on the table.” Yet there is one vitally important option that is not “on the table,” but should be: empowering the Iranian democratic opposition, in general, and, specifically, recognizing one of the most effective and best organized Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK).
The Iranian government has gone to tremendous lengths, both directly and indirectly, to discredit and weaken the MEK, largely through disinformation programs. Why is the regime so obsessively focused on a relatively small opposition group based largely in the Iranian diaspora? The MEK is a moderate, democratic, secular organization that has consistently opposed the regime’s extremist policies with a message of democratic reform and individual freedom — a message that Iran’s ruling mullahs don’t want their people to hear.
But, in a bizarre twist of U.S. policy, the MEK has been labeled by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization, originally placed on the blacklist in 1997 as a concession to “moderates” in Tehran who were then believed to be ascendant — one of the regime’s key strategic victories over America and the West during the past three decades of fruitless negotiations.
Listing the MEK as “terrorists” is both an injustice and manifestly contrary to U.S. interests. To remedy this situation, there is growing bipartisan support in Congress to urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to remove the MEK from the terrorist list, using procedures enacted into law in 2004 to de-designate listed organizations that no longer qualify for such treatment.
The MEK, and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of which MEK is a member, have tremendous reach inside of Iran and a capacity to help build a successful grassroots movement to bring about democratic reform.
From its base in Iraq, where 3,800 MEK members live under the protection of coalition forces, the organization has provided intelligence on Iran’s support for terrorism in Iraq. Lt. Gen. David Odierno, commander of the Multinational Corps-Iraq, has described the MEK as “extremely cooperative” in ensuring security.
An Iran committed to a belligerent, revolutionary agenda will continue to threaten its neighbors and global security. Long-term stability in the Middle East depends upon a stable, secular, democratic Iran that does not export terror, violent upheaval and a radical ideology. Our efforts should be directed at fostering democratic change within Iran by empowering the very opposition organizations that share our goals and values.
Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican, represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District. Rep. Bob Filner, a Democrat, represents California’s 51st Congressional District.