Originally published in The Washington Times, July 15, 2020
Maryam Rajavi, acting president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the world’s largest Iranian dissident organization, which seeks to replace Iran’s theocratic regime with a democracy, provided the following exclusive answers to questions from The Washington Times.
The Washington Times: In what way is your organization’s gathering this year different from the previous gatherings it has held over the past 17 years? What does the organization’s leadership, and what do the participants in this year’s convention hope to achieve and what message do they have for the International Community and the United States?
Mrs. Rajavi: The annual gathering this year is taking place in the aftermath of major developments that unfolded over the course of the previous year. Among those are: the major uprising in November 2019, where the people demanded the regime’s overthrow; the January 2020 uprising, in which in their slogans people rejected both the Shah’s (monarchy) and the mullahs’ regimes, and instead demanded the establishment of a republic based on universal suffrage; the regime’s parliamentary elections were dismissed through a nationwide boycott; the coronavirus catastrophe has claimed the lives of 70,000 of our compatriots as a result of the regime’s criminal policies; the deepening economic crisis has continued, with a 50% inflation rate and a 30% decline in the value of the national currency over the past few months alone.
In short, the regime is in a much weaker and more vulnerable position compared to last year; it is much more exposed, and the society writ-large is on the verge of a real explosion. So, the regime is closer to being overthrown more than ever before.
In such circumstances, this gathering carries three primary messages.
First, it sends a message to the clerical regime that despite all its attempts to physically eliminate the Iranian Resistance, coupled with its extensive and well-funded demonization campaign, today the Resistance is stronger, more cohesive, and more determined than ever before to overthrow the regime in its entirety.
Second, it sends a message to the Iranian people that the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK) and the Resistance, particularly the Resistance Units inside Iran, are standing with them and are supporting their uprising to overthrow the theocracy and to win ultimate victory while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with each other.
And, third, it sends a message to the international community that there is a strong alternative that ensures Iran’s transition from a theocracy to a democratic, non-nuclear republic based on the separation of religion and state and gender equality.
The international community must recognize and acknowledge the right of the Iranian people for resistance against this medieval regime and for uprooting it once and for all.
The Washington Times: Do you think the Trump administration policy of “Maximum Pressure” is working to change the behavior of the Iranian regime domestically, and is it working to curb Iran’s malign influence in the Middle East? More specifically, is the current U.S. policy working to limit Iran’s use of terrorism against its opponents, and to limit Iran’s ballistic and nuclear programs, and other nefarious activities?
Mrs. Rajavi: The experience of the past four decades has taught us that the only effective and productive policy against the clerical regime is a firm and resolute policy. Denying the regime access to resources and opportunities, and preventing it from obtaining economic and political concessions, are indispensable to confronting its terrorism and aggression, as well as its attempts to obtain nuclear weapons.
This is in line with the Iranian people’s interests as well. Replenishing the regime’s financial coffers is tantamount to more suppression against the Iranian people and an escalation in exporting terrorism and warmongering in the region.
We have always said and reiterate that the regime must not be allowed to get its hands on a single bullet. It must not be allowed to reap the financial benefits of the sale of even a single barrel of oil, which belongs to the Iranian people.
An hour after the announcement on the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on July 14, 2015, I declared that the termination of the provisions of the six UN Security Council resolutions will not prevent the regime from obtaining the bomb.
Rather, what is imperative for preventing the regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon can be summed up in snapback sanctions, re-imposition of the six UN Security Council resolutions, the full elimination of the regime’s enrichment capabilities, shuttering the regime’s nuclear sites, and instituting anywhere anytime inspections.
Let me highlight another aspect as well. Court proceedings for a regime diplomat will soon commence in Belgium. He was the mastermind of a large terrorist plot in June 2018. This is perhaps the first time that a diplomat is facing trial for being involved in a terrorist plot. He has spent the last two years behind bars, along with three other terrorist accomplices. He is a senior officer of the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and was the commander of a plot to bomb the Iranian Resistance’s annual gathering in Paris. The targets were myself and senior European and American dignitaries in attendance. If the plot were not discovered and thwarted at the last minute, it would have led to the largest and deadliest terrorist act on European soil. Of course, terrorism has been part of the regime’s survival strategy and its most important foreign policy instrument since day one. But in recent years, the situation has changed, creating a greater need for the regime to resort to terrorism, especially against its legitimate and powerful alternative, because the regime has grown increasingly weak and vulnerable. That is why, in the aftermath of the 2017 uprising where it heard its death knell, the regime plotted two significant terrorist operations against our movement, one planned to take place in Paris, and another planned to take place at a New Year celebration of thousands of MEK members in Albania in March 2018, a gathering in which myself and Mayor Giuliani were also present. Would leniency and appeasement toward this kind of a regime be anything but fueling its terrorism? A resolute policy is the only response.
The Washington Times: What is the status of the “opposition” movement inside and outside Iran, and specifically the “resistance” in Iran in view of the developments in the past year? In recent months, senior government officials have voiced alarm about the younger generation of Iranians joining the ranks of the resistance. Has there been an increase in arrests of Iranians, including two elite, award-winning students, for having ties with the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)? If so, how do you explain this renewed attention towards your movement?
Mrs. Rajavi: The MEK has led a struggle against the two dictatorships of the Shah and the Sheikh (mullahs), sacrificing over 100,000 martyrs. The MEK’s members are selfless individuals with an unflinching focus on the ideal of freedom and liberty. They so not want anything for themselves. For this reason, they have a special place for the Iranian people. The rise and spread of Resistance Units over the past few years, and especially the role that they played in the 2017 and 2019 uprisings, have turned these units into an instrument of hope and inspiration for the Iranian people. The plans and platforms introduced by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which has the MEK as its central component, have made the Iranian people hopeful toward Iran’s democratic future.
At the same time, the Iranian people, and particularly the younger generation, have realized that as long as this regime remains in power, the country’s problems will never be solved. There is no other option but to overthrow this regime, and the MEK stands at the forefront of implementing this policy. That is why despite the regime spending billions of dollars to advance its dark and evil propaganda against the MEK, the message of this resistance movement continues to resonate inside Iran. Not a single day goes by without the regime producing a movie or setting up an exhibition or writing a book to slander and demonize the Iranian Resistance.
Nevertheless, the generations born after the revolution, regardless of the regime’s propaganda, have oriented toward and are attracted to the MEK and the Iranian Resistance. In 1988, 30,000 political prisoners, 90% of whom were MEK members, were massacred on the orders of Khomeini. That was a genocide. Yet, today, the children of that very generation are following in the footsteps of their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.
The Washington Times: There is substantial evidence showing that the uprising in November 2019 was suppressed violently by the Iranian government, with many reports claiming at least 1,500 people were killed and some 12,000 arrested. In view of such brutality and oppressive actions by the regime, what do you think are the chances of the opposition in overturning the regime?
Mrs. Rajavi: The uprising that peaked in November 2019 has neither been suppressed nor has it vanished. The root causes that contributed to the outbreak of those protests are not only still in place, but they have been intensified and strengthened. There is an explosive tendency and widespread disenchantment within the society, there is a strong opposition and an alternative, and the regime is bankrupt, crisis-ridden, and reeling under sanctions. No amount of repression or killings can prevent an uprising. Just as the corrupt dictatorship of the Shah (preceding the mullahs’ regime) was unable to prevent social uprisings and its ultimate overthrow through a bloody suppression. Today’s conditions bear a substantial difference in comparison with those of the 1970s. During the 1979 revolution, due to the Shah’s crackdown and its secret police SAVAK, democratic forces like the MEK were either executed or in prison, lending Khomeini and the mullahs the opportunity to seize the anti-monarchic revolution’s leadership without paying the slightest price for it. In contrast, today, there a powerful opposition and an alternative such as the MEK and the NCRI does exist in the political landscape.
Owing to its reactionary nature, deep-seated state corruption, sheer incompetence and factional feuding at the helm, Tehran has never been and is unable to alleviate the numerous political, economic, and social ills and problems gripping today’s Iranian society. These days, many of the regime’s officials repeatedly warn about more uprisings and protests by the millions-strong army of hungry and deprived people.
The Washington Times: In light of recent parliamentary elections in Iran, what is your view of supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s future influence? Do you anticipate that the current regime will survive if Khamenei dies? What implications would such a development have for your movement?
Mrs. Rajavi: There is no doubt that the three major uprisings that broke out in December 2017, November 2019 and January 2020, in which millions of people displayed their full determination to overthrow the regime, have substantially weakened the supreme leader’s position more than ever before, to the extent that even members of the regime’s own factions no longer take his words and orders seriously. The parliamentary elections marked a significant defeat for Khamenei and his regime because they were confronted with an unprecedented boycott by all Iranians. At the same time, by closing ranks and pushing aside the rival faction, Khamenei has further contracted the regime’s social base, rendering it weaker and more vulnerable. It is certainly true that Khamenei’s death will generate an insurmountable crisis for the regime, since all of the regime’s domestic and foreign policies were based on the principle of the velayat-e faqih (absolute clerical rule) and Khamenei’s absolute rule. Without him on the scene, this bedrock will be removed and there is no one else left that can simply replace him. This eventuality will spawn more discord and tensions within the regime and it will particularly lead to a more extensive and accelerated wave of defections among the regime’s forces, especially in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the paramilitary Bassij Force. This is because these forces acquire their perceived legitimacy and raison d’être from the supreme leader. Khamenei’s death will undoubtedly and substantially accelerate the trend of the regime’s collapse, bringing closer the prospect of its overthrow.
The Washington Times: According to Iran nuclear deal, the arms embargo against Iran will be lifted this fall. Is there a specific action, in your view, that the international community and the Trump administration should be taking in this regard and in response to Iran’s ongoing ballistic missile tests and its non-cooperation with the IAEA?
Mrs. Rajavi: We have always stated and repeat once again that this regime must not be allowed to acquire even a single bullet. It must not pocket profits from a single barrel of Iranian oil. And, it must not spend for its own survival even a single dollar from revenues that belong to the Iranian people. The Iranian Resistance calls for the re-imposition of the six UN Security Council resolutions against this regime. We stress the need to extend international sanctions regarding any form of weapons trade with the regime. Moreover, in the Iranian Resistance’s view, the global community must recognize and acknowledge the right of the Iranian people to struggle against religious tyranny. The regime’s leaders must be put on trial in international tribunals for their killing of 120,000 people in Iran, including the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in 1988, and the murder of 1,500 Iranians in November 2019.
The Washington Times: Based on published reports and the Iranian government’s own admission, the Coronavirus has been ravaging Iran. Some estimates, including one by your organization, put the number of fatalities at around 70,000 people. What do you see as the reason for such a high death toll in Iran? And how do you respond to the contention by the Iranian regime and some in the west that the maximum pressure policy and U.S. sanctions have hampered Iran’s ability to cope with the virus, especially in the procurement of necessary medicines, sanitizing equipment and medical care?
Mrs. Rajavi: The catastrophic situation related to the coronavirus pandemic, and the horrific and shocking number of victims in Iran, before anything else is the result of the inhumane policies pursued by Khamenei and his president Hassan Rouhani.
Despite the fact that they knew about the outbreak of the virus in Iran since mid-January, the mullahs delayed making any announcements with respect to the spread for about a month, in order to proceed with their celebrations on the anniversary of coming to power on February 11 (1979), and to avoid disrupting parliamentary elections on February 21. This led to rapid and widespread transmission not only in various provinces of Iran but to neighboring countries.
While in many countries, governments have allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to help their populations in the course of the pandemic, the mullahs have deprived the Iranian people from even the most basic resources, instead opting to funnel the Iranian people’s wealth toward the unpatriotic missile and nuclear programs, as well as funding and arming their proxies and agents in the region. Additional reasons for the spread of the coronavirus in Iran are ubiquitous corruption at the highest echelons of the regime, as well as ineptitude and incompetence. Khamenei has said that the regime must turn this crisis into an opportunity for itself.
By inflaming the unpatriotic Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, Khomeini’s strategy was to use it as an instrument to avoid meeting the demands of the Iranian people for freedom. He left one million dead and millions more injured, disabled and displaced.
Today, following the same logic, Khamenei and Rouhani seek to prevent the threat of uprisings and the regime’s overthrow by implementing a strategy of mass casualties and body bags. Sending people to work and refusing to quarantine cities and provinces is in pursuit of this ominous objective. But this strategy is neither strong enough nor sustainable because the mullahs are stuck in the whirlpool of being overthrown.
Mrs. Rajavi: The MEK has a clear stance in this regard. We seek a non-nuclear Iran. Iran does not need nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are only valuable for extending the clerical regime’s survival. Therefore, the events that happened in Khojir and Natanz are a reaction to the nuclear weapons project pursued by the religious fascism ruling Iran, which has brought nothing for the Iranian people but poverty, suppression, terrorism and war. The coronavirus spread has already taken 70,000 Iranian lives, and the brutal mullahs have stolen hundreds of billions from the Iranian nation’s coffers, while refusing to pay even the salaries of nurses treating coronavirus patients. Their response to nurses’ protests has been batons and Tasers. The regime’s nuclear and missile programs represent a threat to the Iranian people, the international community and contemporary humanity.