Paris (CNSNews.com) – An annual mass gathering here of a leading Iranian opposition group as usual attracted a lineup of senior American figures, Republican and Democrat, but was this year also boosted by the participation of a senior Saudi prince who called for the regime in Tehran to be “overthrown.”
“Your fight and struggle against the Iranian regime will triumph soon and this is a matter of when, not if,” Turki al-Faisal told the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) “Free Iran” rally, speaking in Arabic.
““I want regime change, too. We in Islamic world will support you from the depth of our hearts,” added Turki, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States.
“The end of your struggle will be sooner rather than later,” he said. “I want this regime to be overthrown.”
Coming from a prominent figure from an important country in the region, Turki’s words drew an enthusiastic response from those attending the rally – the 12th of its kind to be held in suburban Paris.
NCRI organizers say more than 100,000 people participated, among them many Iranian dissidents and activists living in exile, and their supporters.
This year’s event was the first since the signing of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the issue featured prominently in speeches, including that of Newt Gingrich, who served as Republican speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999.
“We signed what they wanted and we see today that it was a big mistake, “ Gingrich said, to thunderous applause.
“There is no reason for making a deal with the head of terrorism. It is nonsense to give them money for any reason and the atomic agreement only helps them have more money for exporting terrorism around the globe,” he said.
John Bolton, former ambassador to the U.N. and a top arms control official in the Bush administration, said nothing had changed inside Iran since the JCPOA was concluded between Iran, the U.S. and five other powers in Vienna a year ago.
“As was entirely predictable, the hopes that that deal would bring peace and stability to the Middle East and the wider world have been proven to be mere illusions,” he said.
“In fact, Iran has changed neither its policies nor its behavior, in the year since Vienna.”
Bolton, who has attended the annual NCRI event for a decade, cited Iran’s military intervention in Syria, in maneuvering in Iraq, and its support for Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists and for Houthi militia in Yemen.
Citing the prospective deal to sell Boeing aircraft to Iran’s national carrier, Bolton said there was growing opposition to the deal from both Republicans and Democrats in Congress – “and Boeing better not count those profits yet.”
“There is only one answer here – to support legitimate opposition groups that favor overthrowing the military, theocratic dictatorship in Tehran,” he said. “And let me be very clear: It should be the declared policy of the United States of America and all of its friends to do just that at the earliest opportunity.”
Together with Gingrich and Bolton on the platform was another former ambassador to the U.N., former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.
“In Washington DC we fight for our ideas, but here we, Democrats and Republicans are together with you, Iranians, to support your ideas of a new and democratic Iran,” Richardson said.
“You are getting more and more support not only from the USA but also from all over the world,” he added.
“No internal reforms have taken place in Iran. And we will stand with Iranian people until the country becomes democratic,” he said.
Richardson praised the NCRI and its president-elect, Maryam Rajavi, describing the movement as “the democratic alternative for Iran.”
Supporters view the NCRI and affiliated People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK) as a viable opposition to the clerical rulers in Tehran, and praise it for exposing the regime’s covert nuclear programs.
Detractors view with suspicion its history of support for the regime of Saddam Hussein, and what critics have described as cult-like behavior.
The MEK was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. until 2012, when the Obama administration delisted it, citing a renunciation of violence and “the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade.”
In her address at the rally, Rajavi said that a year after the NCRI was concluded, “Tehran has failed to find a way out of the crisis that engulf the regime.”
“The country’s economy was supposed to improve but instead it plunged into a recession,” she said.
Rajavi said both the human rights situation and Iran external relationships had worsened, with expanded intervention in neighboring countries.
(Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)