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Amb. John Bolton: The Force of Iranian Public Opinion Will Bring Down the Ayatollahs

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“So, let’s give full credit to the people of Iran who are out in the streets at great risk to their own safety. Thousands, tens of thousands have been arrested, hundreds have been killed, but they’re still out there doing it. It’s that force of opinion that will bring the ayatollahs down,” said Ambassador John Bolton, former National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, addressing a bi-partisan briefing at the United States Senate on Thursday.

In his remarks on Thursday’s conference, Ambassador Bolton applauded the role of the Iranian opposition, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), in exposing the Iranian regime’s nuclear activities. He also praised the Iranian people’s struggle to establish a non-nuclear Iranian republic and how this would affect the entire Middle East.  

The full text of Ambassador Bolton’s remarks are below:  

Thank you very much. Well, it’s a great pleasure to be here today and to see some friendly faces. COVID and other things have kept us apart. But I’m delighted to be back here again today and it recalls the first opportunity I had to speak to a rally like this, although this is a little more genteel than a rally, but first time was in Paris I guess about 15 years ago in a soccer field. That was very warm, as I recall.  

But, but what I said then I believed at the time and believed today that people of Iran deserve the same thing that Abraham Lincoln called for in the United States a government of the people, by the people and for the people. And I think today we are closer to that point than we have ever been. I think that the events of the past year have really demonstrated that we’ve crossed a line and the people of Iran are not going to go back. So this is the time to redouble our efforts and I want to say that through the work of the MEK, Madam Rajavi and everybody who has helped out over the years, it’s been a fundamental part of that effort. 

I remember my own first knowledge of the MEK came during the George W. Bush administration when I was working on the problem of nuclear proliferation by the regime in Tehran, by North Korea, by others. And I kept hearing about this group having press conferences revealing information about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, some of which we knew about but couldn’t make public, some of which we didn’t know about but we were happy to hear and could verify later. And I can’t tell you how important that was. Seems like a long time ago in the early 2000s.  

But information that we didn’t feel we were at liberty to declassify and make public, showing how serious the program of the Ayatollahs was, the kind of progress they were making towards a nuclear weapons capability, towards the capability to deliver it via ballistic missiles really helped demonstrate to Congress and the American people that this was not overwrought. People worried about possibilities that were very remote. This was an ongoing program that posed a threat in the region and really around the world and that if the United States and others didn’t take effective steps to stop it, we would soon be confronted by a nuclear threat in the Middle East. 


Now, I’m not going to recite the whole history here because it’s long and unfortunate that the belief that at any point the ayatollahs had ever given up their intention to have nuclear weapons. There’s no evidence whatever, none, that they’ve ever made a strategic decision to that effect.  

Quite the opposite, even to this day, they are actively pursuing nuclear weapons and the ballistic missile technology that they need to deliver them. It is an illusion, and has been from the outset, that they would ever enter into agreement that would constrict their ability to develop nuclear weapons. They would promise a lot of things. They’re pretty good at that. But they had no intention of carrying through on those promises.  

And it remains one of my objectives today to continue to talk to our friends in Europe to show that the nuclear deal was fatally flawed from the start. The regime never should have been allowed to enrich uranium. That’s the fatal flaw. Not merely that they’re violating the deal, which they have been since it was entered in 2015, but that the deal itself helped ensure their path toward nuclear weapons. It didn’t move in the opposite direction. 

So, they have excluded the IAEA from any meaningful verification of their activities. There’s no doubt about it. And their malign intent continues to be demonstrated all around the region. And I think the regime itself shows its real purposes. Every time we hear of a Houthi missile strike in Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, when we see the effect of the support for terrorist activity there and hopefully to help convince our European friends when they see the government of Iran selling drones and other technology to the Russians to use against innocent civilians in Ukraine in this unprovoked attack. This unprovoked aggression that the Russians have committed against Ukraine, aided by the Ayatollahs.  

This is a regime that really is way outside the scope of anything that we should consider civilized behavior. And they’ve demonstrated it over and over again in the terror and repression of their own people, which is ongoing in Iran today, in their support for terrorism around the Middle East and around the world, and in their continued pursuit of nuclear weapons.  

So I think it’s very important for people in the House and the Senate to hear your voices that this idea that somehow going back into the 2015 nuclear deal will solve the problem of Iran’s nuclear weapons effort is exactly backward. 

If we release the sanctions, which, by the way, are not being as enforced, as stringently as they should be by a long stretch, if we give up on the sanctions, if we return the money that’s been frozen, the assets that have been seized since the withdrawal of the United States in 2018, it will be a stimulus to the Ayatollahs. It will be throwing them a lifeline economically. It will give them resources that they currently don’t have and can’t access. It’s not going to change their behavior in a positive way. It’s going to reinforce in their minds that the government of the United States doesn’t have the resolve, doesn’t have the staying power to achieve the objective that it says it wants, which is to make sure that Iran doesn’t get nuclear weapons.  

So, this is a very important time for all of the objectives that we’ve been seeking. But the reason to be optimistic is what we have seen in Iran by the actions of the Iranian people themselves over the past six months.  

We’ve known of opposition inside that the MEK has reported on consistently and accurately over the years. We’ve seen the enormous economic dissatisfaction with the rule of the ayatollahs and their mismanagement of the Iranian economy that’s impoverished what should be a very successful and wealthy country. 

And now we see, after the murder of Mahsa Amini, we see a direct ideological assault on the legitimacy of the regime itself. This is saying that the people of Iran do not believe that the ayatollahs convey the word of God, they have to believe that individuals can make their own decisions. And that’s what they’ve been doing for the past six months. That challenges the basic ideological foundation of the regime itself.  

Because once people are allowed to think for themselves, there’s no way the regime can survive. This is a very dangerous time inside Iran, but it’s a time where we need courage from the people there and they need to hear time and again how much the international awareness of their efforts has penetrated and how strongly particularly the United States feels about this.  

We cannot underestimate the effect that we’ve seen of the pictures from inside Iran of women leading these demonstrations against the brutality of the ayatollahs. And one reason that I think this time the opposition has crossed far beyond any achievements that they have had before. One reason that this time I think we’re going to be increasingly close to success is that every general in the Revolutionary Guards, every general in the regular military, every one of them has a mother, they have sisters, they have wives, they have daughters. 

And they are hearing every day and every night what the women of Iran believe. And that is a subversive lobbying force that we could only have dreamed of in the past. So, let’s give full credit to the people of Iran who are out in the streets at great risk to their own safety. Thousands, tens of thousands have been arrested, hundreds have been killed, but they’re still out there doing it.  

And it’s that force of opinion that will bring the ayatollahs down. Give us the regime change we need. Free the Iranian people. Relieve the threat to international peace and security that their support for terrorism and their pursuit of nuclear weapons has burdened us with these last 40 years. We are very close to winning. Thank you very much.