the Mojahedin-e Khalq and calling for it to be taken off the State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Gingrich appeared in Paris to tell a Mojahedin group the pressing issue with regard to Iran is not its nuclear program but getting rid of the Islamic Republic.
He spoke Sunday, the day after thousands of Iranian exiles affiliated with the Mojahedin-e-Khalq rallied in Paris to demand change in Iran and seek help for the group’s members in Iraq.
The Mojahedin organized the Paris event June 23 and estimated the turnout to be 100,000, which it said was the “largest-ever” rally of the Iranian Diaspora in the last three decade. French police did not issue an estimate of their own.
High-profile US politicians – including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell – showed up to endorse the group’s cause and call for it to be taken off the terrorist list.
The US State Department has so far refused to de-list the group. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that delisting depends in part on the residents of Camp Ashraf, run by the Mojahedin, moving to Camp Hurriya, a former US base near Baghdad that is now run by the Iraqi government. Under court orders, she will make a decision on whether to de-list the group by September 30.
The Mojahedin have launched a high-profile legal and public relations campaign to gain public support for the de-listing.
At the Paris rally, Rendell also urged the UN, the US and the EU to start the “emigration process” for Mojahedin members in Iraq, saying they live in “terrible” conditions at Camp Ashraf.
Maryam Rajavi, the Mo-jahedin’s leader based in Paris, accused the United States of foot-dragging with regards to delisting her organization. She also said the US and other major powers are trying to appease the Tehran regime by continuing to negotiate over the nuclear issue and not supporting opposition groups.
“Western countries lost this decade by providing all sorts of incentives to the mullahs – a decade of appeasement and fruitless negotiations,” she said after the Paris rally.
Gingrich, who was speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1990s and sought the GOP presidential nomination this year, spoke at a Mojahedin meeting the day after the rally, echoing Rajavi and forcefully calling for regime change in Iran.
“The pressing issue regarding Iran is neither confronting the regime’s nuclear program issue nor its terrorism. The main issue is to change this regime. So long as this regime is in power, none of those issues will be resolved,” he said, according to a press release from the Mojahedin.
Gingrich said Rajavi and the Mojahedin movement can bring democracy to Iran.
He also said, “The US has responsibility to protect the residents of Ashraf and Liberty [Hurriya] since they handed over their weapons to the US forces and, in return, the US officially guaranteed their protection.”
Gingrich is the latest in a long list of retired US officials, both Republicans and Democrats, as well as former military officers to speak up in support of the Mojahedin. The impact of their backing may have been blunted a year ago when it was revealed that at least some of them have received substantial speaking fees for their addresses. And the Justice Department has since launched an investigation into whether they are paid agents of a terrorist organization, in violation of US law.
As the Paris rally was underway, seven former Mojahedin members also took to the streets to protest the “terrorist activities of the anti-Iran” group, according to Iran’s English-language PressTV.
According to the PressTV report, about 16 members of the Mojahedin – armed with chains, baseball bats, knives and snap-off blade cutters – attacked the seven former members. Press TV also cited French police as saying the assailants didn’t have valid documents to be in France and had been brought in from other European countries.
State Department officials held a briefing for the media last Monday on the Mojahedin. The officials complained about the refusal of any Mojahedin residents at Camp Ashraf to move to Camp Hurriya since May 6, almost two months ago.
They speculated that there were two reasons for the Mojahedin recalcitrance.
First, they said, the Moja-hedin have “over-interpreted” Iraqi politics and concluded that the talk in Baghdad of a no-confidence vote in parliament deposing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki might relieve the government’s pressure on them, although there is no indication that any alternative Iraqi government will be any kinder to the Mojahedin.
Second, they said, the Mojahedin appear to have misunderstood the recent court order to Clinton on de-listing the Mojahedin. In public statements, Rajavi has said the US court ordered Clinton to de-list the Mojahedin by September 30. In reality, the court only ordered her to make a decision by September 30. The court order makes very clear that she can decide by that date to keep the Mojahedin on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Before the transfers ended May 6, just under 2,000 Mojahedin members moved to Camp Hurriya. That leaves 1,200 to 1,400 still at Ashraf, the State Department says.
One of the briefers said, “We have argued till we’re blue in the face to the [Mojahedin] leadership that their interests and their safety would increase if they were seen as fully cooperating. We do not understand why, for example, they consider it in their interest to refuse contact with Martin Kobler, the head of the UN mission in Iraq, who, more than any other person, is responsible for the relative success of these relocations so far. They seem to be concerned with their organizational integrity—and we think they need to concentrate on getting out of Iraq safely.”
With regard to the conditions at Camp Hurriya, the briefers acknowledged problems and said the Iraqi government “could do even more” to improve conditions. But the briefers suggested the Mojahedin were exaggerating the problems. For example, one briefer said the water supply came to 200 liters per person per day, a very substantial volume that exceeds the consumption by most people in Western cities.
The many prominent government retirees who have spoken out in support of the Mojahedin-e Khalq since 2010 include:
• Rep. Lee Hamilton, Democrat of Indiana, who was the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the 1990s.
• Three former Republican cabinet members—Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Ambassador to the UN John Bolton and Attorney General Michael Mukasey.
• Frances Townsend, who was Homeland Security advisor in the Bush White House.
• James Jones, former commandant of the Marine Corps, who served as President Obama’s national security adviser until November 2010.
• Bill Richardson who was for years a congressman from New Mexico, then President Bill Clinton’s energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations and next served eight years as governor of New Mexico.
• James Woolsey, who was President Clinton’s first director of central intelligence in 1993-94, and Michael Hayden, who was President George W. Bush’s last CIA director in 2006-09.
• Louis Freeh, who was director of the FBI under Clinton.
• Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star general in the US Army who was commander of the Central Command, which takes in the Middle East, including Iran, from 1997 to 2000.
• Gens. Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton, both former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
• The State Department’s former coordinator for counter-terrorism, Dell Dailey.