On Friday, lawmakers from both across Europe and the United States gathered virtually for a “Trans-Atlantic Summit on Iran Policy.” The event was hosted by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of opposition groups which has long been recognized as the leading voice for democracy in Iran, and as a viable alternative to the country’s existing government structure.
Journalist Trish Regan served as M.C. for the gathering and introduced dozens of speakers who represent a wide range of political ideologies. Several American messages of support for the Iranian Resistance came from prominent Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. But they were joined by Democratic colleagues who included New York Senator Kristen Gillibrand and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee.
The bipartisan unity on display in these statements is a rare feature of the current era in American politics, and it is arguably a sign of the universality of the principles that were highlighted in Friday’s conference. Many speakers emphasized the perceived need to exert greater pressure on the regime in order to safeguard the basic rights of the Iranian people. These appeals appeared especially timely in the wake of the previous week’s execution of Navid Afkari, a celebrated Iranian wrestling champion who was arrested in 2018 for taking part in an anti-government protest.
Though accused of murder by the Iranian regime, Afkari’s conviction was based entirely on a false confession that had been elicited under torture. Many human rights groups, sporting organizations, and policymakers had appealed to the Iranian regime to spare Afkari’s life in the weeks since his death sentence was upheld by the nation’s highest court. But the regime seemed to respond only by doubling down and releasing state media packages that insisted he deserved to die.
For many critics of the Iranian regime, the comparatively brief period of time between Afkari’s appeal and his execution was a sign of the theocratic regime’s stubborn resistance to any and all demands for reform. A number of speakers at Friday’s summit pointed to that sort of defiance as a source of justification for the “maximum pressure” campaign currently being applied to the regime by the US. And several European supporters of the NCRI insisted that that strategy should be adopted by their own countries in place of a longstanding Western strategy that they described as overly conciliatory or downright appeasing.
Robert Joseph, a former Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security at the US State Department, pointed to the upcoming presidential election and cautioned the US against slipping back into bad habits with regard to Iran policy, regardless the outcome. He urged the policy makers to recognize that “the hope that the regime will reform is just a fantasy.”
Endorsing that sentiment, most of Friday’s speakers made at least some reference to the possibility of Iranian regime’s dictatorship being replaced by the pro-democracy NCRI. British Member of Parliament David Jones explicitly urged his government to join Washington in not only exerting maximum pressure but also directing that pressure toward the goal of helping Iranian civilians to overturn the regime.
“By adopting a firm policy against the regime, the UK and the US and other Western democracies should align themselves with the people of Iran and Madam Rajavi for a viable Iranian made solution,” he said.
Robert Joseph pointed out that the perceived absence of a viable alternative to the mullahs’ regime has led many American and European policymakers to conclude that their only options for dealing with Tehran’s malign activities are to either engage in diplomacy with it, or else risk stumbling into war.
Ambassador Robert Joseph, ex-US Arms Control chief: More negotiations will only lead to more brutality. The problem is the regime itself. We must deny the regime any legitimacy. we must support the democratic opposition.#FreeIran2020https://t.co/2U7Rt1f9LO
— NCRI-FAC (@iran_policy) September 18, 2020
But this, said Joseph, “is a masquerade, a false choice.” He then cited the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the US pulled out of in 2018, as a prime example of “successful” diplomacy failing to set the Iranian regime on a more moderate path. Some speakers, like Rudy Giuliani, suggested that the US administration’s turn toward expanded sanctions and other forms of assertiveness had proven more effective since 2018.
Maryam Rajavi described the year 2018 as a “year full of uprisings,” as numerous protests in various localities continued to give outlet to provocative slogans like “death to the dictator,” which had previously characterized a nationwide movement at the start of the year.
The regime has adopted the strategy of causing mass human casualties to protect the regime from the Iranian people’s protests and from the danger of being overthrown. #Iran #FreeIran2020 https://t.co/dUAAaTUJkL
— Maryam Rajavi (@Maryam_Rajavi) September 18, 2020
According to Mrs. Rajavi, a second nationwide uprising in November 2019 also helped to dispel “all illusions about the stability of the clerical regime.” In her keynote speech at Friday’s summit, the NCRI president called on the Western governments to continue exerting pressure on the regime.
“Today, the regime is at its weakest point ever,” she declared. “In such circumstance, giving assistance to the mullahs will only increase the pain and suffering of the people of Iran, but of course, would not be able to save the regime from its certain downfall.”