NCRI - A number of former senior military, political, and diplomatic officials from the past three US administrations appeared to speak at a symposium in Washington on Saturday, July 16, entitled, “Middle East, Iran Spring: Obstacles, Opportunities and U.S. Policy.” The event took place on the first anniversary of a decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on July 16, 2010, which ruled that the State Department had violated the due process rights of the principal Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) by placing it on the terrorist organizations list.
The court remanded the case back to the State Department and ordered it to re-evaluate the decision. Recently, the State Department exceeded a 180 day statute-mandated deadline to justify its decision by providing sufficient evidence. The speakers at Saturday’s conference emphasized the imperative of delisting the MEK immediately and underscored the U.S. responsibility to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
Below is an excerpt of the speech by General Hugh Shelton, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1997-2001):
Thank you very much, Ambassador, for your very kind words. And thank you for a very warm welcome. It is truly great to be with you here in Washington today and to join such a distinguished group of colleagues.
I'd also like to offer greetings to the residents of Camp Ashraf that may be watching or may see this later on. You know, there have been some substantive changes that have occurred in the political landscape and in the challenges that the Ashraf residents face since I last spoke to you or this group in May of this year, but some things have not changed.
First is the United States'guarantee of protection for the residents of Camp Ashraf. It is a commitment that we, as a nation, made and that we must honor if we are to sustain our reputation as a great nation and one that can be trusted to honor its
As we all know, the residents of Camp Ashraf are individuals that provided invaluable information to the United States during the War with Iraq and at its most critical moments. They are individuals that have placed themselves at great -- great risk, not only themselves, but their families as well, by voluntarily giving up their arms when they were asked to do so by the United States, when, at that time, they were guaranteed protection by us.
And as an organization, we must remember that they are ones that first alerted us to the -- to the nuclear programs that had been proposed by the mullahs, and as such, the regime might have those weapons today had it not been for their assistance.
The second thing that has not changed is -- is that the current regime in Iran is still the world's largest exporter of terrorism and the greatest threat to peace and stability throughout that region.
The ruling Iranian regime is an oppressive regime, as we all know. It's one that mixes theocracy with autocracy and extreme expansionist ideology and one that continues to defy the international community.
It is a regime that is intent on denying their own citizens the freedoms that they desire and that they deserve.
The U.S. has encountered elements of this regime in every operation that we have conducted for the last 25 years.
And it is a regime that is not there to help another country fight for freedom; it is there to impose their will on that regime whenever they can and wherever they can.
We recently heard Secretary of Defense Panetta say or express concern regarding Iran's interference with the Maliki Government in Iraq. So I think that now we have, in terms of Admiral Mike Mullen and Secretary Leon Panetta, two individuals in the Pentagon that fully understand the threat that Iran poses to the region and to the United States' interests.
Third is the oppression of the -- and the inequality of women by the current regime, and Iran has not changed. It is deplorable. We know that women want equality, they want respect and the right to participate in all social and economic events, and they deserve to live their lives in a productive manner, one in which they can live with dignity, one, unfortunately, which is not their lot in Iran today.
The current regime's theocratic manner of declaring women as intellectually and physically inferior to men is counter to women's rights, and it's counter to their expectations, as well as -- as what is the right thing to do by that regime and what -- something that the regime understands but fails to do it.
Unfortunately, another thing that has not changed is that the largest, best-organized resistance to Iran's current regime, the PMOI or the MEK, is still on the foreign terrorist list here in the United States.
Our great ally, the UK, took them off their list in 2008, followed very quickly in 2009 by the EU. In the United States, we have former Ambassador Dell Dailey, another colleague who is -- as -- as the ambassador for counterterrorism to the State Department and as an individual who commanded our Joint Special Operations Command who knows more about terrorism and the – and the various organizations in this country than anyone in the State Department today, also previously recommended that the MEK come off the FTO list.
Our Congress has passed a resolution encouraging the State Department to take them off, and we've also seen in this -- in this process that the State Department, in spite of being told to provide it, has failed to provide any either classified or declassified information that states why the MEK should have been placed on the list in the first place.
They also, as we know, last week, exceeded the 180 days that they had been given by the Court to produce evidence to substantiate their reasons why the MEK is on the list.
I say, Wake up, State Department, take the MEK off the FTO list today.
Now, what has changed since we saw that deplorable attack on -- of Maliki's control Iraqi troops in April? Well, first, the -- the fate of Ashraf residents has become very tenuous. We, in the United States, have continued to fail to acknowledge our commitment to ensure the safety of the Ashraf residents hiding behind the lame excuse that it is now an Iraqi problem.
Ambassador Jeffrey in Iraq, his idea that Ashraf residents should be relocated somewhere else in Iraq without any assurance or even any apparent concern for their safety or providing rationale as to why this is a good idea, other than said it moves it further away from the Iran border, is appalling. It causes me to stop and wonder what is this man drinking.
This idea is a recipe for disaster. It is a recipe for slaughter. It is a recipe for ethnic cleansing, far outside the reaches, now, of the international community. By dispersing the residents of Ashraf, it is setting up a recipe for -- or setting up a disaster.
The -- the Iranian influence on the Maliki Government today has shown -- has shown us that the Maliki Government is incapable of providing the degree of protection for the Ashraf residents that they should be providing.
It has shown that the Maliki Government has a disdain for the Ashraf residents, because we see inhumane treatment of the Ashraf residents on a daily basis, to include the loud speakers, the psychological warfare that they have been -- that they have been carrying out, as well as the fact that they have continued to not allow the proper degree of medical treatment for the Ashraf residents.
And then, of course, we all watched the Maliki-controlled troops as they attacked or slaughtered and injured the unarmed residents of the Camp Ashraf.
We either need to send a new ambassador with moral courage who understands America's prior commitments, or we need better oversight and guidance from Washington for that ambassador.
Equally appalling to me is the fact that when you look at the fact -- that we have not used the tools of our national power to make sure that the Ashraf residents who are provided proper medical treatment is absolutely astonishing.
We should not forget that the MEK is the best organized, it is the most formidable opposition to the current Iranian regime. It has challenged the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism for the past 32 years. And to me, it is the MEK that provides hope for the current Iranian people that – it provides a degree of hope that far exceeds anything else that we, here in the United States, or our allies can offer short of direct intervention.
When you look at the 10-point program of human rights platform published by President-elect Mrs. Rajavi, which emphasizes the same religious and gender freedoms that are emphasized and advocated by the U.S. Department of State, to me, it makes it a no-brainer.
Just how dumb can Ambassador Jeffrey or anyone else be to ask an organization of this type to disband itself as he did just recently when, all over the world, we are supporting groups, groups who stand -- stand against ruling dictators, dictators that are far less a threat to the United States than the Iranian regime and, in fact, dictators that were considered friends of the U.S. in some cases.
Why would we not want to put the weight and power of this country behind an organization that we know stands for the -- the same principles that we stand for and that is the best-organized, best-led organization to take on the current Iranian regime? It just doesn't make sense.
As we look ahead, you say,okay, those are the problems, what do you recommend? Well, my recommendation would be, first of all and first and foremost, take the MEK off the list.
Secondly,we need to remember that the -- the Ashraf residents are part of the group that the United States recognized as protected citizens under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and that we, ourselves, provided protection for for six years.
Third, we need to pressure the Iraqis to stop all harassment and suppressive measures against the Ashraf residents today.Fourth, given that the Ashraf residents have accepted relocation as an option, we should let the Iraqis know in no uncertain terms, and by that, I mean, use maybe what I would characterize as "coercive diplomacy," that forcible displacement inside Iraq is totally unacceptable.
We should use the tools of our national power, particularly our diplomatic and our economic tools, to ensure that the Iraqis live up to the commitments that we made to the Ashraf residents if we are not going to do it ourselves.
Fifth, we, in the United States, should step up to our responsibilities and guarantee temporary protection to the residents of Ashraf until they are resettled in third countries.
Let me summarize by saying we know that Iran is much -- has much stronger and concentrated nationalism than any other country in the Middle East. We know that many other countries in the Middle East look at Iran as a threat and for good reason.
We also know that the MEK provides the best avenue for change, and it's why they -- that Iran considers the MEK as a significant threat to their regime.
I would call on Secretary Clinton and Secretary Panetta to acknowledge the U.S. commitment, the promise that we made, the contract that we made with the Ashraf residents to provide for their protection. Let's quit hiding behind the lame excuse that that's now an Iraqi problem as a reason -- that -- that gives us a reason to stand by and watch, and that's not a reason at all.
Again, I say use the tools thatare available. We've got a very strong economic tool, and we certainly have got diplomatic tools that we can use to adjust Maliki's attitude and his actions towards the residents of Ashraf.
We, the United States, as I said before, are a great nation, but we are not in the eyes of the rest of the world if our word is not our bond and if we do not honor our commitments and our promises.
This is a disgrace for America in my opinion. If President Maliki is so weak that he can't control his armed forces or if he, in essence, is using his armed forces to attack, harass and, in the case of April, to slaughter the residents of Ashraf, then it's a clear indication that he is nothing more than a puppet for the current Iranian regime.
Today, it is clear that the current regime in Iran needs to change, and the MEK, with their platform of human rights and equality, is the one that they fear.
We should join the UK and our European allies and remove the MEK from the FTO list, allowing them to continue to bring maximum pressure on the current regime.
This, combined with the strength and courage of those individuals living in Iran today who want their freedom, and especially the women and the youth of that country, offers the greatest opportunity for seeing Iran with a government that is sensitive to the needs of the people of Iran and the greatest opportunity for all the citizens of Iran to enjoy the basic human rights and freedoms that the rest of the free world enjoys.
Thank you very much.