By Nick Timiraos
Los Angeles Times – Hundreds of Iranian Americans rallied at the White House on Thursday to urge the Bush administration to step up its efforts against Iran’s rulers, and to voice support for an organization banned by the U.S. as a terrorist group.
The Iranians demonstrated as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanded that the United Nations take action against Tehran for its nuclear development ambitions.
"We’ve been very clear that we believe that the time has come for a referral of Iran to the Security Council," Rice said. "The Iranians have been given every opportunity to find a way to a solution…. They have not taken those opportunities."
Rice will travel to Europe this month to speak with allies about Iran, and the International Atomic Energy Agency plans to hold an emergency session in early February. The U.S. and key European allies support referral of Iran to the U.N. Security Council for action, but Russia and China, which have veto power on the Security Council, have opposed U.N. action.
Iranian Americans generally approve of U.S. efforts on Iran, but oppose a nine-year State Department crackdown on an organization that it classifies as terrorist but that the Iranian community considers a resistance group.
The People’s Mujahedin, also known as Mujahedin Khalq, or MEK, was added to the State Department’s terrorist list in 1997 after attacks inside Iran. Some of the attacks were directed toward Americans, U.S. officials charge. But the group’s supporters, including many members of Congress, dispute the grounds for the terrorist designation.
At Thursday’s rally, Iranian Americans from across the country demanded a change in U.S. policy toward the MEK, a step they said would allow the group to pursue internal resistance in Iran.
"When Iranians see their largest resistance group being rejected by the U.S., they are demoralized," said Toraj Shahabi, a Laguna Nigel resident who traveled to Washington for the rally. Dropping the group from the list "would galvanize the whole country to put real pressure on the regime."
In a video shown at the rally, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Chula Vista) supported the call to remove the MEK from the list.
"If we cannot have war and if appeasement does not work, we have a third option … and that is to assist the internal resistance based in Iraq," Filner said.
Rice, in remarks Wednesday, said the administration’s position on the MEK "has not changed."
Reminiscent of the recent color-themed revolutions of Eastern Europe, Iranian protesters at the White House donned yellow shirts and caps, waved Iranian flags and held posters depicting exiled resistance leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi. They waved banners reading "Stop Iran Nukes" and "No to Ahmadinejad, Yes to Maryam Rajavi."
Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supports the Islamic regime’s push on nuclear research, arguing that the country has the right under international law to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program.
A small corps of drummers sporadically interrupted rally speakers, leading the crowd in chanting, "Ahmadinejad is a terrorist" and, "U.S., U.S. listen to this, we want Mujahedin off the list."
"We are not looking for a war or military action from the West. We don’t want financial support," said Shirin Nariman, of the Council for Democratic Change in Iran, which planned the rally. "We are merely asking for a third option, to support a democratic regime change in Iran."
Shahabi warned that Iranian acquisition of a nuclear bomb would be "disastrous" to the region’s stability. "We are dealing with a totalitarian regime that has an expansionist ideology. These guys mean business."
Non-Iranians also supported the call for a new view of Mujahedin Khalq.
"The MEK is the only opposition group that Tehran fears," said Raymond Tanter, a visiting professor at Georgetown University.