- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

It is 1942, France has been overrun by the Germans who have installed a puppet regime in Vichy. Out of a clear sky, comes a thunderclap report: Great Britain has made a deal with Vichy. Since the fall of France in June 1940, Charles de Gaulle has been living legally in Britain as he organized the democratic resistance to Fascism. Suddenly it is announced that the British have agreed to extradite de Gaulle to Nazi-occupied France and to certain death.

Of course, that never happened but something tragically analogous has just happened involving France and its newfound ally, Iran, a country President Bush has designated as part of the axis of evil. Living legally in France as a political refugee and granted round-the-clock French police protection, Maryam Rajavi, 51, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), was suddenly jailed on fictitious grounds along with 163 other Iranian exiles.

Some 1,300 French police on June 17 raided the NCRI offices located for 22 years at Auvers-sur-Oise, a village 18 miles northwest of Paris (where Vincent Van Gogh in a 10-week stay in 1890 produced 70 of his greatest canvases). To this day, the French government has offered no evidence of criminal acts committed by the arrestees, according to Liberation, the French daily.

Mrs. Rajavi leads a democratic resistance movement seeking overthrow of the theocratic tyranny that now dominates the Iranian people.

These disgraceful French arrests, made no doubt at the request of Iran’s theocrats, take place at a time when the streets of Tehran are jammed day after day, night after night with courageous students and their elders who won’t take it anymore; at a time when the Bush administration has designated the fundamentalist regime as the most important sponsor of terrorism in the world and at a time when Iran is rushing to build nuclear weapons with Russian help and ignoring legal demands for inspections of its nuclear program.

What Jacques Chirac has obviously done is to bring France into a strange alliance with Iran, in hope of winning over Islamists in the Middle East and especially the swelling Muslim population in France itself. Mr. Chirac is determined to replace the U.S. and Britain as the dominant power in the Middle East. In fashioning this history-making Franco-Iranian alliance, Mr. Chirac is aided by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is strengthening Russia’s ties with Iran while protesting his friendship with President Bush.

The French crackdown on the anti-ayatollah forces in exile has aroused an uproar in Congress and in other parliaments in Europe. In Washington, Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, Reps. Ed Towns, New York Democrat, William Lacy Clay, Missouri Democrat, Sheila Jackson Lee ,Texas Democrat, have sent written protests against the arrests to the French government. They are among 28 senators and more than 200 representatives who have called the Mujahedeen “a legitimate resistance movement.”

The NCRI, a victim of French despotism, has been endorsed by huge parliamentary majorities in Britain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Luxemberg and as the topper, it was even endorsed last year by 150 French deputies. What does Jacques Chirac know that these parliamentarians in Europe don’t know? And what does the State Department, which lists NCRI as a terrorist organization, know that some 200 members of Congress don’t know?

As it stands now, the NCRI is a casualty not only of French foreign policy but it seems also to be a casualty of American tacit consent. It is time for an end to secret diplomacy as far as American foreign policy toward Iran is concerned, especially since Iran remains an implacable foe of President Bush’s “road map” for peace in the Middle East. And it is time, now that France has become Iran’s ally, to recognize the NCRI as a legitimate force for democracy and regime change in the Middle East.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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