On Wednesday, the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) held an online conference in anticipation of this weekend’s Nowruz celebration marking the start of the year 1400 on the Persian calendar. The event was organized to highlight support for the Iranian people and their Resistance movement among American lawmakers, specifically current and former members of the U.S. Senate. Among the speakers were high-ranking members of the Foreign Relations, Judiciary, and Homeland Security Committees, representing both political parties.
WATCH #LIVE | OIAC Senate #Nowruz event online
⏰ Wed March 17, 2021-11:00 AM – 12:30 PM EST
▶️ Human rights & democracy in Iran
▶️ Bi-partisan group of senators
▶️ Prominent policy & political figures
▶️ Fundamentals of an effective US policy toward Iranhttps://t.co/KnnHMkh0i1
— Organization of Iranian American Communities-OIAC (@OrgIAC) March 15, 2021
The bipartisan lineup was noted in the events introduction and in a number of statements from lawmakers themselves. Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman indicated that during his time in the U.S. government, issues involving Iran were consistently among the few topics on which agreement between Democrats and Republicans was commonplace. He attributed this in part to advocacy efforts led by the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), and its President-elect Maryam Rajavi that Lieberman said was recognized in Tehran as the “most devastating and difficult challenger” to the existing regime’s hold on power.
General James Jones, the National Security Advisor to President Obama, reiterated the same message and said, “The Iranian regime fears the NCRI above all other organizations in terms of threat to the regime… once again, the huge Iranian human potential unleashed. Its creativity, its intelligence, its science, its history shows that this country can be a fabulous free society living under democratic values that was expounded upon by Madam Rajavi, … Madam Rajavi, who has proven to be an exceptional leader of an exceptional people. We owe her and the people of the NCRI, our total support. We owe her the belief that, that the better days for Iran are coming and coming very soon.”
This sentiment was echoed throughout the more than hour-long event, often with reference to the role that the NCRI’s main constituent group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI-MEK), played in recurring, large-scale protests that spanned a period of more than two years leading up to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Lieberman pointed to the regime’s “truly botched handling” of the Iranian public health crisis as something that would likely fuel further efforts to uproot the ruling system in the very near future.
In a speech that headed off the event, NCRI President Maryam Rajavi gave the clear impression that those efforts were already underway even as Iranians continued to cope with levels of infection and death that outpace the entire surrounding region. Noting that popular unrest had recently broken out across the province of Sistan and Baluchistan after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) opened fire on impoverished fuel porters, Mrs. Rajavi said that this was evidence that “the fire of the uprisings has risen from under the ashes of the coronavirus.”
The uprisings in question had begun in earnest at the end of 2017, as protests over worsening economic conditions began to spread from the city of Mashhad to localities all across the country. By mid-January 2018, the movement had encompassed more than 100 cities and towns, and the regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei delivered a speech to fellow regime officials in which he acknowledged that the MEK had “planned for months” to facilitate demonstrations and popularize anti-government slogans like “death to the dictator.”
The human rights abuses were another common topic of discussion in Wednesday’s conference, and many of the American speakers cited them as one reason for their support of the Iranian Resistance and a foreign policy that promotes the safe removal of the existing Iranian government. Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, suggested that the MEK and the NCRI represent a viable alternative to that government, specifically one that would place “more value on human rights than on its ability to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Senator Menendez noted in his speech that Resistance had seemingly grown more effective since 2016 when residents of a MEK community in Iraq began to find a more secure and stable home in Albania, at a compound that Iranian operatives also attempted unsuccessfully to attack in 2018.
Menendez went on to say that U.S. lawmakers and Iranian activists “remain united” against the Iranian regime’s attacks on its own people. Although he acknowledged that some of those lawmakers may favor different approaches to this topic, his remarks implied that the ultimate aim of any approach is not merely reform but rather replacement of Iran’s theocratic dictatorship. Ted Cruz, the Republican Senator from Texas, made this more explicit and also connected the Iranian people’s interests to those of the Western world. “We will not be safe until the regime has fallen,” Cruz declared.
Cruz and several other speakers warned against the prospect of Iran being granted relief from the economic sanctions. While Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, highlighted the Magnitsky Act as a potential tool for sanctions that are more specifically targeted to human rights abuses, several Republican speakers emphasized that the current sanctions are already working and must be left in place to continue weakening the Iranian regime.
Other speakers also reiterated their support for the Iranian people and their quest for a free and democratic country.
“I not only reiterate my message of support for the Iranian people, but I also stand in solidarity with their message condemning the regime’s radical activities across the region,” Senator Tod Young said, adding: “for decades, the Iranian people have been demanding a democratic peaceful, and non-nuclear republican government.”
Senator John Cornyn “commended the hard work and fighting for an Iran free of human rights abuse, and totalitarianism” and said: “America will always stand with the people of Iran and we’ll do everything we can to support Iran’s desire to be free… As the mullah’s regime in Iran continues to exert their iron will, we must hold them accountable by sustaining our sanctions against the regime.”
Senator Jeanne Shaheen emphasized on continued fight for a responsive and just government in Tehran and said: “in recent months authorities in Iran have relied on internet blackouts to curb street protests. They use authoritarian tools to limit gatherings, clamp down on information, and prevent transparency…women and girls in Iran continued to be treated as second-class citizens. Human rights advocates, ethnic minorities, journalists, and people with dual nationalities are targeted by the regime. They face abuse, torture, arbitrary detention, harassment, and even death. The U.S foreign policy must draw a contrast with these actions.”
Senator Gary Peters said he is “proud to stand with Iranians in opposition to a totalitarian regime. For decades, the Iranian regime has been directly responsible for mass executions of political prisoners, violently suppressing, peaceful protest, and sham elections.”
Senator John Boozman said: “I stand with the efforts of the Iranian people to bring change and democracy to the country that you all love… I’m startled by the rising number of human rights violations in Iran. And I continue to believe that preventing the regime from developing a nuclear weapons program is critical… we must hold the regime accountable. Last month I joined my Senate colleagues to reaffirm the need for maintaining sanctions on the Iranian regime until it abandons its nuclear ambitions and ends a through-provoking violence and instability in the region.”
Former Senator Kelly Ayotte emphasized the need to keep the sanctions on the regime and support for the Iranian Resistance and said: “We should not lift sanctions on Iran. We should continue the maximum pressure campaign against the murderous Iranian regime. We also need to lead an effort to continue international sanctions on Iran when it comes to its ballistic missile program … Iran should no longer engage in terrorism. Most of all, Iran should be required to respect the human rights of its own people and of other people around the world… We must work together to stop the danger posed by the Iranian regime to the world and to give the Iranian people the new day that they deserve governance that is based on freedom and respect for human right… Let this be the year that freedom rings in Iran. And we know that there is an alternative to the tyranny of the mullahs, Madam Rajavi and the NCRI have a 10-point plan, which envisions a peaceful democratic future for the people of Iran.”
Senator Marco Rubio sent a message to the event expressing his support for the Iranian people and said: “The Iranian people deserve a government that respects the rule of law, democratic norms and places the needs of the Iranian people above funding its adventurism abroad. I pray for the day that Iran is free and peace-loving and till that day comes, we will continue to do all we can to counter Iran’s malign activities and stand up for the Iranian people.”
Ramesh Sepehrrad the OIAC presenter for Wednesday’s event, in her concluding remarks, said that the Iranian activist community believes that existing sanctions hurt only the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people. Furthermore, she attributed this view to the Iranian people themselves, citing an oft-repeated chant in recent nationwide uprisings: “The enemy is here; [but] they lie and say it is America.”