Shirin Nariman: A chance to embrace Iranian people's democratic aspirations

By Shirin Nariman- Posted on the Richmond.com on Jan 29, 2017

With the change of guard at the White House, it seems clear that the administration of President Donald Trump will be eager to execute major foreign policy shifts. A focal point of those changes will be the approach to Iran.


Years of “engagement” and “dialogue” with Tehran’s rulers have emboldened a bullying regime to extend its tentacles of terror outward, while continuing to trample on the human rights of Iranian citizens.

 

In his efforts to revise U.S. policy towards the Tehran regime to better align it with America’s values and strategic interests, Mr. Trump will not be alone. Such a policy must reject engagement with the turbaned tyrants in favor of embracing the Iranian people’s democratic aspirations.

That approach would win the resounding support not just of the Iranian-American community, but also of Congress, which overwhelmingly opposed the Iran nuclear deal.

Earlier this month, we were encouraged to hear that nearly two dozen former top American officials had urged Mr. Trump to work with Iran’s opposition in order to send a strong message to Tehran.

The letter signed by 23 former officeholders specifically calls on the president to consult with the main coalition of opposition groups, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

The longest-standing political coalition in Iran’s history, the NCRI represents a broad grouping of democratic organizations and personalities. Founded in 1981 in Tehran and now based in Paris, it embodies a microcosm of Iranian society, with representatives from ethnic and religious minorities such as Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians, and Kurds.

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The main component of the NCRI is the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a progressive Muslim movement that for the past 50 years has waged a valiant struggle against Islamic fundamentalism and extremism, calling for democracy and separation of church and state.

The NCRI’s platform calls for a secular, democratic, and non-nuclear Iran that respects international law, human rights, and gender equality. Women comprise 50 percent of the council’s members, and its president-elect is also a woman, Maryam Rajavi.

As Mrs. Rajavi has reiterated, “We want a non‐nuclear Iran, free of weapons of mass destruction.”

The letter by American experts and former policymakers states that given “the opportunity to engage directly with the NCRI, unfiltered by regime propaganda, U.S. officials will learn that in the 1980s, as a political strategy to challenge Iran’s harsh fundamentalism that denies all rights to women, the resistance adopted a policy of gender equality — rare in the Muslim world — and elevated women to leadership roles.”

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The letter was signed by a truly bipartisan group of American statesmen, including Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security secretary under President George W. Bush; Gen. Jim Jones, former national security advisor to President Obama; Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; former Sen. Joseph Lieberman; and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey.

This stellar list of Americans proves once again that when it comes to a more decisive policy on Iran, Washington is clear-eyed and united.

In their message to Mr. Trump, the group said, “We urge your Administration to adopt and pursue an Iran policy that recognizes the interests and inalienable rights of the Iranian people, and not just the clerical regime ruling over them.

“President Obama expressed the hope that nuclear negotiations would induce Iran’s leaders to act with greater consideration of American interests. It is now clear that Iran’s leaders have shown no interest in reciprocating. ... Through their extremely high rate of executions at home, and destructive sectarian warfare in support of the 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.”

“To restore American influence and credibility in the world, the United States needs a revised policy,” the former top officials and experts added. We strongly agree and echo this call.

The Iranian regime must be held to account for committing egregious human rights abuses and crimes against humanity, including the horrific massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, many of them supporters of the MEK, in 1988.

Iranian-Americans are optimistic that the new administration will open a historic chapter in its policies toward the world’s largest banker and supporter of international terrorism: Tehran. As the 23 former officials told Mr. Trump, there is an alternative to the ayatollahs: the true representatives of the tens of millions of Iranian citizens yearning for a free, democratic and non-nuclear Iran.

Shirin Nariman, a resident of Vienna, is the executive director of the Iranian American Community of Virginia, a member of the Organization of Iranian American Communities.

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