- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A group of Republicans, Democrats and retired military officers has asked President-elect Donald Trump to abandon President’s Obama’s soft approach to Iran’s “brutal repression” and take a stand that puts the U.S. “on the right side of history.”

In a hand-delivered letter, 23 signatories express hope that Mr. Trump will begin an alliance with Iran’s main resistance group, a dramatic shift that would surely send shock waves through the halls of the Islamic republic.

A boost to Iranian dissidents is that former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Guiliani, one of the closest outside advisers to Mr. Trump, signed the letter.

The former officials say the U.S. lost all available leverage with Iran by delivering financial and political concessions in exchange for the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which blocks Tehran’s ability to build nuclear weapons for 10 years.

In return, the anticipated better behavior by Iran’s hard-line regime has not materialized. Tehran has executed 3,000 people, including women and juveniles, since so-called reformer Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013.

“It is now clear that Iran’s leaders have shown no interest in reciprocating the U.S. overture beyond the terms of the JCPOA which gained them significant rewards,” the letter says. “Through their extremely high rate of executions at home, and destructive sectarian warfare in support of the [Bashar] Assad regime in Syria and proxy Shiite militias in Iraq, Iran’s rulers have directly targeted U.S. strategic interests, policies and principles, and those of our allies and friends in the Middle East.”

The answer, the group says, is to shift from Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach and toward a “revised policy demanding an end to Iran’s domestic human rights violations and malevolent behavior.”

They do not advocate pulling out of the nuclear deal.

The signers are an interesting mix of retired senior military officers and former elected officials.

There is retired Gen. James L. Jones, former Marine Corps commandant and Mr. Obama’s first national security adviser. Other retired generals include Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff; Gen. James Conway, a former Marine commandant; and Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who advocates a much more robust bombing campaign against the Islamic State’s terrorist army.

Former elected Democratic officeholders include Edward G. Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor; Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island; and Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey.

Republicans include Tom Ridge, President George W. Bush’s chief of homeland security, and Michael B. Mukasey, Mr. Bush’s attorney general.

Mr. Ridge’s signature is interesting because during the last year’s campaign he signed a letter, as did 49 other Republican national security figures, that said Mr. Trump was unsuited to be president. Mr. Ridge heads Ridge Global LLC, a high-powered D.C. consulting firm.

“From a foreign policy perspective, Donald Trump is not qualified to be president and commander-in-chief,” the letter of 50 said. “Indeed, we are convinced that he would be a dangerous president and would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

Mujahedeen of Iran

Since the nuclear agreement, Iran has expanded its overseas military adventures in a strategy to exert hegemony over as much territory as possible, national security analysts have said.

On the surface, it appears that Shiite-ruled Iran is fighting the Sunni extremist Islamic State. Tehran has organized about 100,000 Iraqi Shiites in Iraq in various militias and has inserted its terrorist Quds Force into Syria to defended the Assad regime in the bloody battle for control of the city of Aleppo.

The 23 signatories say Iran’s real goal in Syria is to prevent any type of negotiated settlement that would put it and its ally Russia on the sidelines.

“Iran fears a scenario that would bridge sectarian differences and accord a legitimate political role to Sunnis as well as Shia and Kurds in Syria and Iraq, as this would leave Iran and Russia with reduced influence and no military role in either country,” the signatories say. “Our most respected experts have consistently warned against relying on Iran’s cooperation in the fight against ISIS.”

They write that they have “consistently advocated a policy that, by recognizing the basic rights of the Iranian people to exercise their sovereign franchise free of brutal repression, would put the United States on the right side of history.”

One major policy shift would be for the U.S. to begin a dialogue with the main opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has headquarters in France. The Mujahedeen of Iran, or MEK, the council’s largest member, operates a network of spies inside Iran that has produced vital information on the regime’s hidden nuclear program, such as the locations of facilities unknown to the United Nations and Washington.

The resistance has worked to elevate women and minorities to senior posts and consistently talks of bringing true democracy to Iran.

The 23 signatories say in the letter: “Like the resistance, we envision an Iran in the future where all men and women have the right to vote, regardless of ethnic group or religion, and where freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed, with no internet monitoring and censorship.”

The national council maintains an office in Washington directed by Soona Samsami, who said Mr. Trump needs to talk directly to the Iranian people.

“Experience has shown that no amount of political or economic concessions to the medieval and totalitarian regime ruling Iran will bring about any change in its behavior,” she said. “Attempts to capitalize on moderation within this regime, under whatever pretext or circumstance, are investments in a mirage.”

Mr. Obama made reaching out to the ruling mullahs one of the hallmarks of his first term. He refrained from voicing strong support for students in 2009 protesting the disputed election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Analysts say the supreme ruler of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has a deep hatred of the United States. He never embraced Mr. Obama’s overtures.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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