The NCRI's President-Elect Maryam Rajavi Addresses the 2023 Free Iran World Summit

Iranian dissidents hold major rally in France calling for regime change in Tehran

Pence, Pompeo and other Western figures express support for exiled group

By Guy Taylor – The Washington Times – Sunday, July 2, 2023

Thousands of supporters of the world’s biggest exiled Iranian dissident group rallied in France over the weekend, calling for the overthrow of the theocratic regime at an event that drew support from top international figures.

“[The] Iranian regime has never been weaker than it is today,” former Vice President Mike Pence, a 2024 presidential hopeful, told a conference that occurred in coordination with the rally. The National Council of Resistance of Iran and its associate group, the exiled People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) orchestrated the event.

VP Mike Pence Meets with Mrs. Maryam Rajavi During the 2023 Free Iran World Summit
VP Mike Pence Meets with Mrs. Maryam Rajavi During the 2023 Free Iran World Summit

“No oppressive regime can last forever,” said Mr. Pence, whose remarks dovetailed with those of other prominent Western figures, including former British Prime Minister Liz Truss, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian ex-prime minister and prominent member of the European Parliament.

A central message of the conference was that Western governments’ appeasement of Iran‘s authoritarian regime is unproductive and dangerous. Mr. Pence and others addressed the conference near Paris on Saturday as thousands of MEK supporters rallied.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran and the MEK have offices in several nations, including the U.S., and have a history of holding peaceful anti-regime rallies. However, political sensitivity surrounds the dissident movement. Iran‘s government accuses the movement of being a terrorist operation.

An Iranian diplomat was convicted of plotting to bomb an annual MEK rally near Paris in 2018. French authorities initially blocked the group’s plans for this weekend’s rally, citing security concerns.  A French court lifted the ban on Friday after an MEK challenge.

What followed on Saturday was a convergence of thousands of supporters in Place Vauban in Paris for the rally, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP), which reported that backers came from all corners of Europe.

A statement by the NCRI said the focus of the rally was to show support for an ongoing uprising against the regime inside Iran, to call for the “overthrow” of the regime and for “the establishment of a democratic republic in Iran.”

Mr. Pence told the conference associated with the rally that “this is not just another protest but the beginning of a revolution for freedom.”

“One of the biggest lies the ruling regime has sold to the world is that there is no alternative,” he said, according to AFP.

Mrs. Truss warned the conference of “a rising threat from authoritarian regimes across the world,” according to the news agency, which quoted her as saying: “Now is the time to turn our backs on accommodation and appeasement.”

Exiled MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, meanwhile, asserted that backers have a choice: “We either allow the religious tyranny and the mullah’s rule to persist, or we instigate a revolution, topple the mullahs, and establish a democratic republic with the separation of religion and state.”

“Fate is knocking on our door,” Ms. Rajavi said, according to remarks circulated by organizers. “Indeed, the answer is a revolution.”

The comments coincide with frustration among many U.S. Republicans and some Democrats who say the Biden administration is pushing an appeasement policy toward Tehran in hopes of luring it back into talks over its nuclear program — which the regime built up over decades in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The administration’s attempts to spur nuclear diplomacy with Tehran broke down last year amid.

Despite its outreach to Iran, the Biden administration has upheld the State Department’s longstanding designation of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. It also kept in place a Trump-era designation of the Iranian military’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization.

Officials also have said President Biden would use force if necessary to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But that messaging has inspired little confidence among Iran hawks. And National Council of Resistance of Iran representatives have accused the Biden administration of downplaying attacks against the MEK in a bid to placate Tehran.

Ali Safavi, a representative of the dissident movement, told The Washington Times ahead of the events in France that he believes the administration is “maligning the MEK unjustly to appease Iran‘s brutal rulers.”

The administration has held a cautious posture toward the MEK and recently downplayed a raid by the Albanian authorities on the exiled group’s safe house complex in the Eastern European nation. The White House also ignored the French government’s move to block MEK from holding its rally in Paris.

While the MEK has had refuge in Albania in recent years under a deal brokered by the former Obama administration, Albanian authorities seized 150 computer devices in the June 20 raid, during which several people were injured. The group claims a 65-year-old Iranian dissident was killed.

Iranian state-media praised the raid in Albania. The Tasnim News Agency suggested it was even carried out at Tehran’s behest.

Iranian state-media praised the raid in Albania. The Tasnim News Agency suggested it was even carried out at Tehran’s behest.

The MEK’s frustration with the Biden administration marks the latest in the group’s turbulent history with Washington. MEK was once placed on and then removed from the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list.

The group has recently emerged with political influence, calling for regime change and aligning with the former Trump administration’s policy of maximum pressure toward Iran.

Organizers of this weekend’s events in France said that in addition to Mr. Pence and Mrs. Truss, other speakers included former French, Italian and Canadian foreign ministers, a former British defense minister and other current and former U.S. officials, including former NATO Commander Wesley Clark; former National Security Advisers John R. Bolton and James Jones; former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Connecticut independent; and Reps. Lance Gooden, Texas Republican, and Raul Ruiz, California Democrat.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at

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