Even in the wake of a wide-ranging conference in Warsaw on the topic of Middle East policy, the United Kingdom and Europe remain at odds with the United States over the Iran nuclear deal and the broader question of how to deal with the government of the Islamic Republic. It is understandable that many UK lawmakers believe maintaining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is preferable to proceeding with no agreement whatsoever. But what they fail to take into account is the strong possibility that this and any other deal may be rendered null and void anyway, by domestically-driven regime change.
This possibility should stand out in the minds of all Western policymakers following more than a year of near-constant unrest in the Islamic Republic. The final days of 2017 marked the beginning of nationwide uprising that continued for several weeks before being brutally suppressed by regime authorities. But this did not prevent Iranians in countless localities from returning to the streets over and over again throughout 2018 to repeat provocative anti-government slogans and give shape to what was described as a “year full of uprisings” by Maryam Rajavi, the leader-in-exile of Iran’s democratic Resistance movement.
I have been acquainted with this movement and this leader for many years, and I only wish that more Western politicians understood what they represent. As the leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Mrs. Rajavi has outlined a 10-point plan for the future of her home country, which enshrines all the principles of democratic governance, secularism, and human rights that are essential to regional stability and Iran’s long-term integration into the community of nations. These outcomes are simply not attainable as long as Iran remains in the grip of the current regime – a fact that US Vice President Mike Pence and other delegates to the Warsaw conference have rightly sought to emphasize.
Although that conference yielded no clear resolution to the differences between American and European policies toward Iran, I am increasingly hopeful that the international community is coming face-to-face with issues that will change the overall dialogue about the Islamic Republic. This progress is being helped along by the several solidarity demonstrations that have been organized by the NCRI and by local Iranian communities, reiterating the demands of domestic protesters and advocating more assertive Western policies.
Such demonstrations were held to coincide with both days of the Warsaw conference last week, and these were preceded on February 8 by a rally and march in Paris, near the headquarters of the NCRI – the site of a foiled bomb plot involving a high-ranking Iranian diplomat and three co-conspirators. The terror plot was a clear symbol of the Iranian regime’s anxiety about the growing strength of the Resistance both at home and abroad. Had it been successful, there is no telling how many deaths it may have caused among the tens of thousands of supporters and hundreds of Western political dignitaries. Instead, it has only served to underscore the inherent danger of allowing such a regime to maintain its grip on power.
With that in mind, Resistance activists also assembled in the vicinity of the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, where they urged European governments to safeguard their own national security and advance the cause of a democratic Iran by closing Iranian embassies and removing those Iranian intelligence agents operating under diplomatic cover. At least five such individuals were already expelled in 2018, while the mastermind of the Paris terror plot was arrested in Germany. This goes to show that that plot was not an isolated incident but is part of a trend that has actually accelerated over the past year, as the possibility of regime change has become increasingly imminent.
As that trend continues, it must be recognised that Western politicians who defend the status quo in Iran relations are divorced from reality. The notion of internal moderation by the existing regime has been proved over 40 years to be a fantasy. But now that regime is clinging to power with all the violence at its disposal, the long-term survival of that regime is revealing itself to be a fantasy as well.
It would perhaps be appropriate for the UK and its regional partners to oppose American assertiveness in this area if that assertiveness was directed at imposing regime change upon a country that is not ready for it. But that is by no means the situation that Iran faces today. At Warsaw and elsewhere, the Trump administration has only been encouraging support for the Iranian people who, under the leadership of the NCRI and Maryam Rajavi, have been making great strides toward democracy on their own.
These voices have been missing from discussions of Iran policy for far too long. But after Paris and Warsaw and Munich, it is more difficult than ever to ignore those Iranians who are calling for change both from inside their homeland and from throughout the diaspora. It is now time for careless U.K. and European politicians to recognize the legitimacy of the Iranian Resistance and to help it in achieving its democratic aims. It is long past the time for a reluctant U.K. and European Press to grapple with the moral reality of having down-played the 40 years of pseudo-religious persecution of a people who know better, seek better and deserve better.