What is behind Maryam Rajavi's visit to Strasbourg?

By Anne Singleton
December 2004

Maryam Rajavi, the self-styled president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Mojahedin-e Khalq, spoke at a private meeting mid December 2004. The meeting was hosted in the European Parliament at Strasbourg by Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a vice-president of the European Parliament, and two MEPs who co-chair a group called Friends of a Free Iran, Paulo Casaca of Italy and Struan Stevenson of Britain. Both the United States and the EU consider the Mojahedin to be a terrorist organization. Mrs Rajavi is currently on bail in France pending trial on terrorism charges.

Maryam Rajavi said that by entering into negotiation with Iran over its nuclear program, Europe is 'appeasing Tehran'. Instead Europe should support regime change in Iran. Mrs Rajavi urged the EU to remove the Mojahedin from its list of outlawed terrorism organizations, since it [terrorist listing] was an obstacle to political change in Iran.

Now, although the MKO claims to be the main opposition to the Islamic Republic regime, it has played no part in Iranian opposition politics for over twenty years. Instead, since 1983, it has waged armed attacks against its homeland from neighboring Iraq. MKO activities in Western political circles have been based exclusively on garnering support for its policy of regime change by violent means, rather than as representatives for political change to Iran's Constitution or Government.

While the MKO has done its utmost to vilify and crush other exiled opposition movements because they do not believe in violence to achieve secular democratic government for Iran, it has become increasingly clear since the mid 1990s that the real opposition to the Islamic Republic now exists in various forms inside Iran, including inside the government itself. The imprisonment of outspoken critics - newspaper editors, politicians, students and others - inside Iran continues despite international condemnation and criticism. Yet the Islamic Republic has offered a unique amnesty to returning MKO combatants, under which around 1,000 are due to return in the coming months.

In these circumstances it is becoming more difficult to credit the MKO with real opposition credentials; though because of its sophisticated propaganda capability, it cannot be dismissed entirely. But, while the Mojahedin's argument is not new, Maryam Rajavi's visit to Strasbourg created controversy among exiled Iranian communities who saw it as yet another attempt to hijack the political stage.

However, if we place the visit in the context of the organization's current status we can postulate that Maryam Rajavi's visit and the statements she made are based on opportunism rather than political analysis.

The MKO is already being disbanded in Iraq under supervision of the US Forces Command Centre and the ICRC. In any case, the Iraqi election will effectively end the MKO's existence there, whether armed or not, since an elected Iraqi government will have to act on demands for the MKO's removal.

If we extrapolate only from its own demands we can infer that the MKO's maximum hope of its own survival is either to serve as a tool in the hands of a very few powerful Western politicians for their own agenda for Iran - in the main this is to pursue a policy of regime change by preemptive military action which is in itself a controversial issue - or to be preserved as a bargaining chip by European governments to add leverage in talks over Iran's nuclear program.



As the Mojahedin's position is transparent so its reasoning is also transparent. Massoud Rajavi has sent his wife as an emissary to bargain for his own survival. He is offering his forces to be adopted by new sponsors for whatever they can be used for. In return these sponsors will try to remove the MKO from the list of terrorist entities as a step toward buying Rajavi immunity for his past crimes.

If anyone still believes that there is any other reason for the MKO's demand to be taken off the terrorist lists than to save Massoud Rajavi's skin then let us imagine the deal as having being struck. Where will that leave the MKO?

Imagine the MKO is revived in Iraq and given the same money and arms as it received from Saddam Hussein. Would it be the same force as it was before the US invasion? When the average age of MKO combatants was around 30 years old and it had free border access and unlimited logistical support from the Iraqi military, the maximum it achieved was the Forough-e Javidan operation of 1988 in which half the forces were massacred and the rest forced to retreat in disarray. And that was at a time when Iran had just emerged from eight years of debilitating war with its neighbor. In its present state the MKO would perhaps be able to serve as a unit in a US attack force.

Surely a more obvious deal for the MKO would be to have the MKO remain a terrorist entity while its forces continue to work, as they do now, as the National Council of Resistance of Iran with Maryam Rajavi as its figurehead. This would allow a transition from a military force to a political opposition force. In the current anti-terror climate and in respect of its unpopularity inside Iran, surely this would be a logical path to guarantee its survival and growth. Why then doesn't the NCRI abandon violence as the only means to achieve regime change and act, in accordance with its own charter, as an umbrella for the many opposition forces already struggling to bring secular democracy to Iran? No doubt many in the West would be happy to support such a move.

But this approach has a fatal flaw. It would not halt the dissolution of the MKO in Iraq as an armed force. And this dissolution in its turn will expose Massoud Rajavi, and other top leaders who remain in hiding in Ashraf camp, to prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity. We are back at square one.

Put all of this aside as sour grapes on behalf of the MKO's critics. If we accept Maryam Rajavi's position that the MKO is a key player in regime change a strategy of course which the European Union has no interest in pursuing or is in fact the main opposition which can be used as a threat to Iran in EU negotiations - certainly the MKO has shown it is determined to keep the nuclear issue alive so as to have a place in the negotiating process, even as a bargaining chip - this still does not satisfactorily explain Maryam Rajavi's private meeting in the European Parliament.

As we know, any MEP can book a room and sponsor speakers to address invited guests. This does not in itself carry any political weight or meaning. MEPs are entitled to their own views. Organizations like the MKO will surely find among the 732 members at least one who will perform the logistics. The only obstacle here is to convince that MEP to gamble their reputation. Again, at least one or two in 732 can be found.

Using the building of the European Parliament and a handful of MEPs is irrelevant to the procedures and decisions of the European Union. As we know, the EU decision to designate the MKO as a terrorist organization and to take measures against it occurred after all the EU member countries reached consensus on the issue. The European Parliament did not vote or otherwise influence the decision of the member states.

When Maryam Rajavi was arrested in June 2003, the French judiciary did not consult the European Parliament which is, of course, irrelevant to the process of law in France. When the US bombed the MKO bases in Iraq and forced its surrender it did not consult with any parliament, this was a military conflict with a terrorist organization. When listing the MKO as terrorist, neither the US nor EU put it to a parliamentary vote. It was a decision based on factual information from experts, analysts and researchers in each country's civil service and on intelligence reports.

The common voice from European leaders and EP representatives is that they will not allow any obstacles to interfere in Europe's relations with Iran.

In the face of all these messages, Maryam Rajavi's visit can be interpreted as having perhaps one obvious motive. This elaborate but essentially hollow PR exercise is to be used for internal purposes. That is, to convince Rajavi's followers that the MKO has a future. And even that will have its effect only as long as the members and supporters remain ignorant about basic facts pertaining to democratic processes in the world.

The Islamic Republic of course is not ignorant of the democratic processes in the EU and US. The Iranians are more than ready to use the MKO as a tool against the EU in their negotiations quite opposite to what is commonly perceived as it points to duplicity in the European (and US) approach to terrorism. Yet the history of the MKO follows a pattern of being used by both sides against moderate and democratic opposition.

The real problem with Maryam Rajavi, the MKO and the NCRI is not whether they get to talk in a private meeting or not, but whether they are to be held accountable for their deeds, personally and collectively, according to the laws of the free world. To imagine the MKO is exempt from justice because it can be used by all sides in a political wrangle is unacceptable and will not work.