Preparing for Regime Change in Iran


Excerpts from “Preparing for Regime Change in Iran,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, available at Fikra Forum

 “Maryam Rajavi, your endeavor to rid your people of the Khomeinist cancer is an historic epic that…will remain inscribed in the annals of history.” -His Royal Highness, Prince Turki Al Faisal

On July 9, 2016, I observed a rally in Paris at which Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia, former ambassador to the U.S. and intelligence chief but no longer in any official position, addressed Maryam Rajavi, President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Turki option — regime change in Iran — turned up the heat on Tehran. When the crowd chanted, “The people want regime change,” the Prince joined the crowd in Arabic saying, “I, too, want regime change” in Iran, a remark that brought the house down.

With some Arabs leading the call, various dissidents like the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) core of the NCRI are accelerating their calls for regime change in Iran. The Arab conflict with Iran has been mainly sectarian, but Turki sought to move the conflict to a strategic level with a greater focus on removing the “revolutionary” nature of Iran’s regime. With some support for the NCRI in the U.S. Congress, European national parliaments, and the European Parliament, it is time for the West to join this effort.

Georgetown University students and colleagues in the Iran Policy Committee conducted a study to assess the image of the NCRI and other Iranian dissident groups, including organizations not espousing regime change. Using the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) for the period from January-December 2005, we performed a content analysis and determined the NCRI/MEK was the topic of discussion almost four time as often as all other dissident organizations combined.

We updated the 2005 study by using the large number of attacks by the IRGC or Iranian proxies against the NCRI. Again, the NCRI family of entities were targeted more than other rebellious minorities in Iran. In addition, the Iranian regime regularly sets up expositions throughout the country to convince Iranians to refrain from paying any attention to the NCRI.

If the regime were not so leery of the NCRI, they would hardly pay so much attention to it. Furthermore, Iran would not spend its political capital with foreign governments asking them to suppress the group or seek the destruction of Camp Ashraf/Liberty in Iraq, where MEK dissidents were confined in exile at Liberty until September 9, 2016.

The 2009 uprising showed that millions in Iran wanted regime change, a goal espoused by the NCRI, whose members paid a disproportionate price for participation. Some Arab governments are now lining up with Iranian dissidents because they perceive the revolutionary enemy regime at their doorstep. As the Prince attempts to redraw the arc of history, this is the time for the West to join the coalition that could shape the future.


*** Other contributions of the author at The Washington Institute  are available in Arabic at:

*** Click here for the Arabic Word version of “Preparing for Regime Change in Iran”

Professor Raymond Tanter served on the U.S. National Security Council and as Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in the Reagan-Bush White House.




The Turning Tide


The breaking news is in the title: “The Turning Tide.” On Sep. 12, 2016, Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement that reflected a shift away from the Iranian regime in favor of its main opposition when he announced in unusually favorable language that the Mujahedeen e-Khalq, or MEK departed from Camp Liberty and safely arrived in Albania. Kerry said a “significant American diplomatic initiative…has assured the safety of more than 3,000 MEK members whose lives have been under threat.” The tide has turned.

Led by Sen McCain, on July 14, 2016, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved S. CON. RES. 42: It stated in part that it was the sense of Congress that the United States should work with the Government of Iraq…to ensure that all residents of Camp Liberty are safely and expeditiously resettled in Albania.

Because of such pressure, Baghdad had no choice but to permit the last groups of dissidents to depart. And the remaining residents departed Sep. 9, 2016.

The good news: They are safe; the bad news: Although the tide has turned, resettlement requires resources to make up for hundreds of millions of dollars of their material assets denied to them when departing Iraq.

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Obama’s Iran Deal Caused The Administration To Ignore Valuable Nuclear Intelligence


Foreign policy circles were abuzz over a May 5, 2016 New York Times Magazine profile of White House foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes. It boasted about manipulating “naïve” journalists into telling the American people how nascent moderation within the Iranian regime made the Iran nuclear talks viable. He also highlighted the White House creation of an “echo chamber” providing grants to outside nonprofit groups for pursuing the President’s objective to support so-called moderates in Tehran.

The network included journalists and media outlets, think tanks, nuclear associations, and pro-Tehran lobbies, including the infamous National Iranian American Council (NIAC). Last year, NIAC received $281,211; over the past five years, more than $814,000.

Contrary to the network that echoed the false narrative of the White House, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its largest component, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), exposed sensitive verifiable information and acted as the international community’s eyes and ears on the ground.

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What America Can Learn from Zalmay Khalilzad


Dr. Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Iraq and Afghanistan, will speak at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, DC, on April 12, 2016. That talk is a part of the rollout of his new book, The Envoy: From Kabul to the White House, My Journey Through a Turbulent World. Khalilzad spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on March 31 in an event moderated by CBS Anchor Bob Schieffer, and an event was held for Khalilzad at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), with President Carl Gershman as moderator. These occasions are a testimony to the quality of the book, the respect Khalilzad commands from his colleagues, and the relevance of The Envoy for the future of American foreign policy in hot spots like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Khalilzad has had a remarkable career in public service—all the more so after having grown up in northwestern Afghanistan. In addition to three ambassadorial posts, he has also served in senior positions in the State Department and the Defense Department. Earlier, he taught at Columbia University after earning a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. His new book combines autobiography with sophisticated insights into some of America’s greatest foreign policy challenges in recent decades.

Theory and The Envoy

Regarding erudite insights, the book makes a contribution to the academic and policy literature on bureaucratic politics; consider, for example, the piece by Graham T. Allison and Morton H. Halperin, “Bureaucratic Politics: A Paradigm and Some Policy Implications.”

In a transition from ambassador to Afghanistan to become envoy to Iraq, Khalilzad recounts that he had been tasked with convening conferences across Iraq to identify leaders who would be able to work with exile groups to form an interim government. “Sovereignty was to be transferred to this new administration as soon as possible. But the process had been suddenly abandoned when President Bush announced that Paul Bremer would be going to Baghdad instead, to head the Coalition Provisional Authority, which would serve as the U.S. occupation government in post-Saddam Iraq.”

A few hours after the announcement, Bush called Khalilzad, stating, “We all love you, Zal. We think the world of you.” Khalilzad politely replied how he appreciated the compliment but did not understand why the administration was shifting plans, from one to devolve power as quickly as possible to the Iraqis, to one that would amount to being an occupying force like the one that had ruled Japan after World War II.

According to the president, as told by Khalilzad, the problem was that if both Bremer and Khalilzad went to Baghdad, Bremer would be reporting through the Department of Defense to Donald Rumsfeld, and Khalilzad would be reporting through National Security Council Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Because Rumsfeld and Rice were not working well together, one could not have two senior officials in the field responding to principals in Washington who were at odds with each other. The president needed the Department of Defense to be in the lead, and that meant Bremer.

The bitter irony is that Rumsfeld describes serious problems in Bremer’s reporting among the White House, State and Defense during the time Khalilzad discussed his disappointment with the president’s decision. So despite the president’s wish to resolve a problem before it arose, his solution did not have the desired effect.

What is interesting is how Bush ripped a page from the playbook of academics. But just because they wrote in journals does not mean they were “only” scholars. Indeed, they also often served in high-level positions. This “inner-and-outer” aspect of American policymakers gives rise to a richness of theorizing. One of the oft-cited and frequently discredited principles in the bureaucratic literature is that “where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Brent Durbin states, “Perhaps the most-abiding concept from the bureaucratic politics model, and the shorthand many have used to define it, is that actors will pursue policies that benefit the organizations they represent rather than national or collective interests. This idea, that ‘where you stand depends on where you sit,’ is often called Miles’s law after the Truman-era bureaucrat who coined the phrase.” Bureaucratic politics often serves as a counterweight to realist theories about decisionmaking.

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A Plan to Prevent a Nuclear-Armed Iran

february 24-2016

For the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jan. 17 Implementation Day of the nuclear deal and Feb. 11 commemoration of the founding of the Islamic Republic highlight two faces of the state. On one side, the deal shows a normal state that can become nuclear-arms capable within 10 years.

On July 14, 2015, The U.N. Security Council adopted UNSCR 2231: “The resolution’s provisions should, pending confirmation of implementation, expire 10 years after its adoption, and with that, it would remove the Iranian nuclear issue from its agenda.” And on Aug. 18, 2015, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) released a report that said, “The JCPOA has many strengths but one of its most serious shortcomings is that it almost ensures that Iran can emerge in 15-20 years as a nuclear power with the potential, at a time of its choosing, to make enough weapon-grade uranium for several nuclear weapons within a few weeks.”

The major powers, however, do not care, because Iran will have moderated even more than it is today.

On the other side, the deal is with a revolutionary state. Critics say Iran cannot ever be trusted with the bomb; that the deal expands its revolution across borders; and the country suppresses its people so that the religious dictatorship survives challenges from within.

By becoming a nuclear-armed state (see UNSCR 2231 and ISIS above), Iran signals to its population that — because the regime can get what it wants from the major powers — it surely can dictate to the people, so they need not think about revolting. The first face of Iran requires minimal sanctions, inspections, and scant resolve if detection reveals cheating. The second needs maximum sanctions inspections and resolve.

All but the most generous perspectives recognize that the nuclear deal will fail unless it is embedded in a larger strategy that keeps the pressure on Iran and keeps a very close eye out for cheating. The pressure that will have the greatest effect on Iran is that which holds the regime’s survival at risk and makes double-dealing without detection hard.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its largest unit, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI) — more commonly known as the Mujahedeen-e- Khalq (MEK) — are in a good position to detect cheating and be the tip of the political spear within Iran. The NCRI’s claim to monitoring is strong, but could be reinforced if it had the support of the West. Likewise its contribution to pressuring the regime requires more backing from the West.

Opponents to working with the NCRI would likely raise objections to the wisdom of this kind of cooperation. They might ask: Because the NCRI is considered as a beleaguered terrorist group besieged at Camp Liberty in Iraq, can it contribute much pressure, and why should the United States risk close association with the NCRI? Or offer that if threatening regime survival makes Iran move more quickly to become a nuclear-armed state, might it not be better to wield pressure in the form of withheld carrots (economic sanctions, for instance) that do not trigger the nuclear itch? Or even say, if the NCRI were essentially irrelevant to the 2009 Green Revolution, the time when Iran really did feel the pressure, is it better to work with the Greens than NCRI?

With the argument and counterargument in mind, consider how sanctions, cheating, and detection form a trifecta.


In Not by Sanctions Alone penned July 13, 2013, for The Washington Institute for Near East Study (TWI), Michael Eisenstadt argued that in addition to sanctions, military and “other means” were necessary to bolster nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Concerning the military, on Jan. 5, 2016, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told former Ambassador Dennis Ross that President Barack Obama said to Netanyahu that he had taken the military option off the table.

If military strikes are not relevant, what other means are there to pressure Tehran? The Iranian regime fears that it might fall from within. Because it came to power through revolution and has dealt with episodic domestic unrest since its inception, regime survival is the foremost concern of the Supreme Leader and those around him, including those who are considered as moderates by Western nations. So regime change from within is a principal fear of Tehran.

At issue is what groups might be most suitable to lead internal regime change. The NCRI is in a good position to help lead a coalition that rejects clerical rule in Iran. There is evidence that other groups that sought to make deals with the regime have withered away. As reported in my 2006 book, Appeasing the Ayatollahs and Suppressing Democracy, a number of groups were destroyed by the regime. To name but a few, the Organization of Iranian People’s Fedai Guerrillas fell victim to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini’s efforts to create disunity, and by 1980, the group fractured.

Some of the leadership cooperated with Khomeini and aligned itself with the communist Tudeh Party. This faction changed its name to the Organisation of Iranian People’s Fedaian Majority, dropping the “guerrillas” to reflect a plan to participate peacefully in government. Despite its endorsement of the clerical establishment and call to arm the Revolutionary Guard with heavy weaponry, the Fedaian Majority was suppressed by Khomeini in the 1980s. It regrouped in exile but remained dedicated to working through the existing political system to achieve reform. How? By throwing support behind approved parliamentary and presidential candidates, the group sought the favor of the regime, but to no avail.

The Green Movement has taken a page from the failed playbook of others that withered on the vine, despite cutting deals with the regime. The Iranian Green Movement faction headed by former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, accepted clerical rule. On Feb 11, 2015, Akbar Ganji, an Iranian investigative journalist and dissident who is a friend of the “Greens” and imprisoned in Tehran from 2000 to 2006, stated that, “Since February 2011 the leaders of Iran’s Green Movement, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and his wife Dr. Zahra Rahnavard, and former Speaker of the Majles [parliament] Mehdi Karroubi have lived under strict house arrest, ordered by Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC).”

The Iran Primer, an organ of the U.S. Institute of Peace, issued a report favorably inclined toward the Green Movement. It stated that during the fall of 2009, demonstrators yelled slogans: “Others chanted, ‘Khamenei is a murderer. His rule is null and void.’” This post infers that “others” is an indirect reference to the NCRI, which is often not mentioned explicitly by supporters of the Green Movement. Circumstantial evidence that the chants were NCRI in origin may be seen in that its supporters received the most severe suppression from the demonstrations.

The NCRI alone has survived because it refused to compromise, despite humongous losses inflicted by the regime and has the support of the students on the streets of Tehran. How do we document such support? Look at over 100,000 supporters of the NCRI who annually gather in Paris. The gatherings are to express adherence to the ideals of the organization. Such numbers reflect the backing within Iran because each attendee has family members who are in Iran in quiet support.

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IPC Publishing is proud to announce the release of “Islamist Movements Protégées of the Ayatollahs.”


IPC Publishing is proud to announce the release of “Islamist Movements Protégées of the Ayatollahs.” See:

This study makes 5 contributions for policymakers.

First, Islamic State is like the Islamic Republic of Iran. Each advocates a world without frontiers, oppresses dissidents, and lacks popular support.

Second, the study updates a prior book, “Arab Rebels,” in light of creation of Islamic State as descendants of the Iranian regime. With the 1979 Revolution in Iran, these protégées received oxygen and rose as al Qaeda and Islamic State; Iran’s narrative of a borderless caliphate compares favorably with the storyline of Islamic State, which is also a world without frontiers.

Third, this work shows that the Iranian resistance is the ideological antithesis of Islamic Republic of Iran. Tehran is misogynist, flouts the rule of law, and oppresses minorities; the resistance treats women and men equally, practices rule of law, and adheres to majority rule in word and deed.

Fourth, “Islamist Movements” provides a point of departure for national and international parliaments to hold hearings to identify the enemy as militant Islam in its state form (Iran) and nonstate version (Islamic State).

Fifth, a Ten-Point plan for bringing democracy to Iran poses a threat to the survival of the clerical regime. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, including its main unit, People’s Mujahedeen of Iran/Mujahedeen-e- Khalq, chart a political process toward a free Iran.


On 21 JAN 2016, Prof Tanter was on the Steve Gruber Show as a scholar discussing the role of the Iranian Resistance in exposing the hidden sites in Iran where Tehran engages in storing equipment in the nuclear supply chain. The National Council of Resistance of Iran is an organization that rejects clerical rule and a topic of Tanter’s research.

Revelations, U.S. Representative Office National Council of Resistance of Iran


As a scholar studying Iranian opposition groups, I am posting this information for the general public.

Click to see the online conference on Wednesday, December 2, 2015, Alireza Jafarzadeh, Deputy Director of the U.S. Representative Office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, revealed the composition and modus operandi of the secret committee that was set up in Tehran to deceive the IAEA on its probe of the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the Iranian regime’s nuclear program. The revelation was based on reports from various entities and institutions within the clerical regime.

In the conference, specific cases of Tehran’s measures to conceal nature of its nuclear project was examined and exposed.

For the text of the presentation, click here.

The final disposition of the true nature of Tehran’s nuclear program was one of the major points of dispute between world community and the Iranian regime. Following the nuclear agreement in July 2015, Tehran pledged again that it would fully answer the IAEA long-standing questions on the nature of the Iranian regime’s nuclear program. The IAEA report on its findings about PMD was released in December 2015.

Below are the initial reactions of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS):

  • Despite obfuscation and stonewalling by Iran, the IAEA confirmed that Iran had a coordinated nuclear weapons development program until the end of 2003 and conducted some weapons development activities after 2003.
  • Overall, Iran provided little real cooperation.  Denials and lack of truthfulness should not be confused with cooperation in the context of the JCPOA, any more than such “cooperation” by a defendant in a criminal investigation would be construed as real cooperation.
  • Faced with such outright Iranian efforts to deceive the inspectors, the IAEA broke relatively little new ground.
  • The truth of Iran’s work on nuclear weapons is probably far more extensive than outlined by the IAEA in this report.
  • The IAEA drew conclusions where it was able to.  The bottom line is that the IAEA’s investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programs cannot be understood to be concluded, certainly it cannot be closed.

Click here to see the IAEA report.

The U.S. Needs to Protect the Iranian Opposition in Iraq — and Counter Tehran in the Region

noviembre 5, 2015On the night of Oct. 29, Camp Liberty, which houses some 2,250 Iranian exiles, was the target of a rocket attack that killed 23 people. En route to the Vienna Talks on Syria, Secretary John Kerry quickly condemned the attack and offered the United States’ condolences “to the families of the victims, and we hope for the swift recovery of those injured.” He added, “We also urge the Government of Iraq to provide additional security for the camp’s residents and to find the perpetrators and hold them accountable for the attack, consistent with its obligations under the Dec. 25, 2011 agreement with the United Nations.”

The Associated Press and the Washington Times both covered the attack. Agence France Presse and the conservative news service CNS, reported bipartisan congressional calls for action. Digital Journal included a link to detailed video footage. Another clip shows the scene shortly after the attack. The calls included two Republicans, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ed Royce and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as well as a Democrat Rep. Judy Chu.

Critics of the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) might say that the media coverage is really not independent because each one merely quotes what the Iranian dissidents said. But I say that when the mainstream media gives so much ink to a story, it is some evidence that they take the allegations seriously.

Critics might also say that members of Congress supportive of the MEK are acting in the interest of campaign contributions. But I say that the burden is on the naysayers to provide the evidence linking Royce, Ros-Lehtinen, and Chu as being “bought off” by the MEK. I am personally aquatinted with each of them, and I am impressed with their integrity and commitment to the MEK especially on humanitarian grounds. The attack is the epitome of a humanitarian tragedy.

Why is Iran targeting its opposition? Dissidents are trying to block Tehran’s aspirations to control Baghdad and Damascus, where the United States is fighting the Islamic State. Washington’s evolving strategy is dead on arrival on the Hill unless the Obama administration reaches out to the opposition and sees Iran as a threat across the porous border.

So how can it counter the threat from Iran? Align with others opposing Tehran and the bipartisan congressional coalition sharing that view.

Saudi Arabia’s alignment against Iran includes Israel as a silent partner. Saudis view Tehran and Damascus unfavorably. A potential partner for Riyadh and Washington is the Iranian resistance that rejects clerical rule in Tehran. All define the threat as Islamist.

On Oct. 5, 2015 Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir asked whether Iran is a “state or a revolution,” If it wants to export its 1979 revolution and revive the Persian Empire, “we cannot deal with it,” said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his speech before the U.N. on Oct. 1. Shifting alliances in the Middle East are drawing Arab countries like Saudi Arabia closer to Israel in confronting Iran and the Islamic State. Netanyahu’s Mar. 3 speech before the Congress stated that, “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat, not only to Israel, but also the peace of the entire world.”

Both Adel al-Jubeir and Netanyahu have previously distanced themselves from the MEK on different grounds. On one hand, Saudis attribute too much power to the MEK because of their role in bringing down the Shah — if their supporters can topple the Shah, perhaps they will side with those who wish to bring down the Kingdom. On the other hand, Netanyahu believes that the MEK is of too little consequence to cause even further trouble with the State Department, which fails to reach out to the MEK. Both assessments are based on my interviews with high level Saudis and Israelis.

My take is that the MEK is neither strong nor weak based on indicators like the following. According to my research, reported in my book Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents, during mid-2000, the Iranian regime paid more attention to the MEK than to all other groups combined, created expositions in every major city of Iran to warn the youths of the pro-democracy views of the organization, and paroled Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani’s daughter from prison because she was learning too many subversive ideas from MEK prisoners. In the expositions and the early release, Tehran’s tactics against the MEK backfired.

On Apr. 29, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, “ISIS: Defining the Enemy.” Maryam Rajavi is President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the coalition of which the MEK is the largest unit; she testified from Paris. Her written testimony showed how Tehran is an Islamist epicenter of terrorism to establish an Empire without borders and called for empowering the democratic tolerant Islam she represented.

Critics might argue that it is easy to promise democracy and criticize the regime as being an Islamist epicenter. There is “evidence” the MEK is an intolerant cult, which forces its members to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid. I have interviewed family members of a young girl who committed suicide when Maryam Rajavi was in a Paris jail. The parents told me they did not believe their daughter had done so because of pressure from the MEK. Indeed, when the jailers informed Rajavi of the suicide, she immediately issued a statement saying that she neither sanctions such behavior nor wishes anyone else to do so in the future — not the words of a cult leader.

I grant the jury is out whether the MEK will be as tolerant when the regime falls as Tehran has been intolerant towards the MEK. Think of a soft landing when the regime falls as in the disintegration of communism in Europe or a hard landing like the one in Libya. If soft, then I expect a tolerant MEK.

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Bipartisan consensus: Stop Iran and its missile attacks on Iranian dissidents

iranprotest_timessquare_072215gettyFox News reports a missile attack occurred on Camp Liberty Iraq on October 29; residents include 2,400 members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). About 80 missiles made holes as deep as 7 feet and wide as 8 feet—including 122 mm Katyushas and those Tehran produced—the NB24 Russian missiles.

Why is Iran targeting its opposition? Dissidents block the goal of Tehran—to control Baghdad and Damascus where we are fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Washington’s evolving strategy is DOA on the Hill unless the administration reaches out to the opposition and sees Iran as a threat across the porous border.

How to counter the threat from Iran? Align with others opposing Tehran and the bipartisan congressional coalition sharing that view.

Saudi Arabia’s alignment against Iran includes Israel as a silent partner. Saudis view Tehran and Damascus unfavorably. A potential partner for Riyadh and Washington is the Iranian Resistance that rejects clerical rule in Tehran. All define the threat as Islamist.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir asked, Is Iran a “state or a revolution?” If it wants to export its 1979 revolution and revive the Persian Empire “we cannot deal with it.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his UN speech on October 1 that shifting alliances in the Middle East drew Arab countries like Saudi Arabia closer to Israel in confronting Iran and ISIL. His speech before the Congress stated that, “Iran’s regime poses a grave threat…to the peace.”

On April 29, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing, “ISIS: Defining the Enemy.” Maryam Rajavi is President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the coalition of which the MEK is the largest unit; she testified from Paris. Her written testimony showed how Tehran is an Islamist epicenter of terrorism to establish an Empire without borders and called for empowering the democratic tolerant Islam she represented.

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