Added this week is the highly respected former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lee Hamilton, two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton, a former head of the CIA, Michael Hayden, and the State Department’s former coordinator for counter-terrorism, Dell Dailey.
They all came out at a conference Saturday at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel that was packed with Mojahedin-e Khalq members and hosted by former Sen. Robert Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey, long a supporter of the group.
Over the last few months, the Mojahedin-e Khalq have held other events at which a number of former officials—both Republicans and Democrats—have come out in support of the group, saying it no longer belonged on the terrorist list. Most have described the group as a natural ally of the United States in opposing the Islamic Republic.
A few references were made Saturday to one common criticism of the Mojahedin-e Khalq—that it has little support within Iran because it lined up with Saddam Hussein in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
The Mojahedin-e Khalq, usually referred to as the MEK or the PMOI at Saturday’s conference, renounced violence several years ago, and several speakers Saturday praised MEK leader Maryam Rajavi’s 10-point platform for Iran, which calls for universal suffrage, separation of church and state, and a country that is nuclear free.
Dailey, who headed counter-terrorism from 2007 to 2009, said that the State Department is “continuing to reconsider its efforts in retaining the PMOI on the Foreign Terror Organization (FTO) list,” and said that “for Iraq and the United States, members of Camp Ashraf and the PMOI are the best counterbalance to Iranian terrorist and nuclear aggression.” Dailey praised the group for its contacts, insights, cultural awareness, and a past record of providing information about Iran.
“No other internal or external organization has been this productive in obtaining such information, we should not let it fall idle,” he said. “To best make this Iranian opposition effective, the United States must revoke the terror designation.”
Former Rep. Ham-ilton, who served in Congress from 1965 to 1999, spoke about the “extraordinary difficulty” that the United States has had in dealing with Iran over the years, and about Iran’s push to build a nuclear program. “I understand that much of the information that we have in this country with respect to the Iranian nuclear program comes from you [the Mojahedin-e Khalq],” Hamilton told the audience, which included many supporters of the Mojahedin-e Khalq.
“From where I stand now, I’m really puzzled,” Hamilton said. “I do not understand why the United States has kept the MEK on the terrorist list for all these years. I have had access to classified information, I know some things may have happened in the past, but I just don’t understand why [it remains on the terrorist list].”
He called it a “factual question” about the conduct of the MEK, and said he was “not aware of any facts that require the MEK to be on the terrorist list.”
Gen. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs from 1997 to 2001, said, “Iran’s issue is compounded by the fact that the largest organized resistance to Iran’s current regime has been put on the FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organizations] list, the MEK,” he said. He called for that “mistake” to be “rectified immediately,” and said the “MEK is obviously the way that Iran needs to go.”
“The MEK is not a perfect organization, they’ve made mistakes — so have we,” he said. “But I think the MEK, when you look out into the big picture, they provide hope for the Iranian people that far exceeds anything that we or our allies can offer, excluding direct intervention, at this point.”
Gen. Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2005 to 2007, said the US has had enemies turn into friends in the past: Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan. Countries change, he said, and Iran will. But for now, Iran is a threat “to the region, to Europe and to the United States.” He called it “unacceptable” that the current regime obtain a nuclear weapon.
Pace then went through possible responses. He stressed that direct military response was the “least best option,” but said that for credibility, it has to be on the table, and added that the US military is quite capable of “handling any new threat.” On negotiations, he said: “the entire Iranian nuclear program has been undertaken during negotiations.” He said talks were important, but he couldn’t see how Iran would be dissuaded.
“That leaves why you are all in this room: uprising, of the people,” he said.
Pace praised the group’s 10-point plan, and said he saw no reason to keep the group on the terrorist list. But he did take some time in his remarks to address questions surrounding the group’s history:
“Folks believe that a lot of people in Iran do not trust the MEK, because of the alliance between Saddam Hussein and the MEK during the Iran-Iraq war. And that fear is also holding back many individuals, and it has to be overcome if you want to get to where you want to go,” Pace said.
In January, at a similar conference in Washington, also hosted by former Senator Torricelli, these prominent American lined up with the Mojahedin: James Jones, former commandant of the Marine Corps, who served as President Obama’s national security adviser until last November; Bill Richardson who was for years a congressman from New Mexico, then President Clinton’s energy secretary and ambassador to the United Nations and who just left office after eight years as governor of New Mexico; James Woolsey, who was Clinton’s first director of central intelligence in 1993-94; Louis Freeh, who was director of the FBI under Clinton; and 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.