- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Back in 1997, the United States and its Western allies thought they saw an opportunity for their first meaningful dialogue with Iran since the 1979 revolution. In the newly elected president, Mohammad Khatami, they saw someone whom they could deal with, a man who could bring about change from within the established system.

But the mullahs who ruled in Tehran had a price - the West had to blacklist the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) by adding it to the list of “terrorist” organizations. It seemed like a small price to pay in the world of realpolitik.

Anyway, that was then - and this is now.

Never mind that the “moderate” Iranian government never lived up to that billing, or that the mullahs went ahead with their nuclear ambitions laughing all the way to the acquisition of fissionable material, or that the “moderate” Mr. Khatami gave way to the bellicose President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The major fact is that big changes are taking place in Iran - changes that the hard liners in Tehran no longer are able to stop and that the Obama administration had better wake up to.

The evidence is clear. Ever since the disputed election in June, this is not the Iran we have known for the past 30 years.

No longer can the mullahs or their Revolutionary Guard forces keep demonstrators off the streets, or keep whats happening inside Tehran and other cities from the eyes of the world. Even the regime’s own demonstrations are being taken over by dissidents demanding more freedom and democracy.

The fact that the opposition has only expanded and accelerated despite heavy-handed crackdown (including documented sexual abuses) indicates that the status quo is no longer tenable. As one Iran observer put it recently, the mystique of the supreme leader has broken in people’s minds, and when something changes profoundly in people’s minds, changes on the ground are bound to happen. It is abundantly clear that Iran will not settle for anything less than a fundamental regime change.

For its part, the U.S. no longer can remain blind to the sea change taking place before its eyes in Iran. It must change its approach, and that starts with bringing the persistent dissidents into the equation.

The old policy was based on the premise that the Islamic Republic is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and the United States either has to find a compromise or go to the extreme of waging a war. When he took office, President Obama sought to reset the clock by pursuing engagement with Tehran. In that setting, it did not make sense to bring the opposition into the picture since it only agitated Tehran and sent the wrong message to Tehran rulers.

Now, the ongoing demonstrations in the streets of Iran’s cities are the wild card. If the equation has changed, the approach to the opposition also should change.

That should start by removing the PMOI from the terrorist list, which the United Kingdom and European Union did last year and this, respectively, after long court battles that fully exonerated the PMOI from any engagement in terrorism. The delisting came about despite strong resistance from European capitals that were more concerned about the impact of the delisting on their trade with Iran.

Credible records demonstrate that the PMOI has not engaged in any violent activity since 2001. In 2003, it formally renounced violence and voluntarily disarmed. Extensive interviews and investigations by U.S. security agencies of PMOI members based at Camp Ashraf in Iraq confirm that the group poses no threat to U.S. security.

Indeed, through its extensive network and popular support inside Iran, the PMOI has been an important asset by revealing Tehran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program over the years; revelations which nuclear experts believe has been correct 90 percent of the time.

Scores of European diplomats engaged in negotiations with Tehran have acknowledged that Iranian officials have urged a crackdown on the PMOI in negotiations with Western governments over the nuclear program and other issues.

The PMOI is more than a thorn on the side of the clerical regime and that’s why the mullahs prevailed on their friends in Baghdad to try to wipe out Camp Ashraf in July - but that effort failed.

The blacklisting of Tehran’s opponents has been an unwarranted gift to the mullah’s regime. It has provided Tehran with not only an excuse to further suppress its opponents at home but also to violate the most rudimentary human rights of millions of Iranians throughout the nation. Indeed, anyone even charged with sympathizing with the PMOI is view as a Mohareb, or some one who wages war of God and must be punished by death.

So what is the point of doing Tehran’s biding against its opposition particularly when things are so fluid in Iran?

This is intervening in Iran’s internal affairs in favor of the mullahs - and now realpolitik dictates this has to be changed.

Struan Stevenson is a member of the European Parliament and president of the EP’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq. He is also the chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Inter-Group in the European Parliament.

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