(CNSNews.com) – A group of prominent American figures, Republican and Democrat, are planning to make their way to Paris next weekend for what has become an annual show of strength for a major – and controversial – movement dedicated to the downfall of the regime in Tehran.
On July 9, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)/People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (MEK) plans a mass “Free Iran” rally in the French capital, following a series of round-table events a day earlier. Last year’s event attracted a reported 100,000 Iranian expatriates and supporters.
Among the high-profile Americans who organizers say have confirmed their attendance are former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – said to be a strong contender to be Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate – who has taken part in previous years.
Others include former ambassadors to the United Nations John Bolton and Gov. Bill Richardson, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean.
Joining them, organizers say, will be former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Robert Joseph, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and former Democratic lawmakers Sen. Robert Torricelli (N.J.) and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (R.I.), among others.
Military figures are also on the list, among them former Marine Corps commander Gen. (Ret.) James Conway, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. (Ret.) David Philips, who was responsible for training the Iraqi Police after the 2003 U.S. invasion, and Col. (Ret.) Wesley Martin, who served as senior anti-terrorism and force protection officer for coalition forces in Iraq.
Until four years ago, the MEK was a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. Following a high-profile lobbying effort then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delisted it in 2012, citing its renunciation of violence and “the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK for more than a decade.” (A senior administration official said at the time delisting decisions are “not made to appease any group of lobbyists, no matter how famous they are.”)
The group’s detractors point to its Marxist origins and past terrorist activity, and charge that it has a history of cult-like behavior. Many Iranians revile it for its collaboration with Saddam Hussein during the bloody Iran-Iraq war.
Supporters view it as a viable opposition to the clerical rulers in Tehran, and say criticism leveled against it is largely due to a successful lobbying effort on the part of the regime and its supporters. They also point to the fact the NCRI/MEK has provided the West with valuable intelligence on Iran. Notably, a then senior member of the group, Alireza Jafarzadeh, in 2002 helped to uncover Iran’s clandestine nuclear program.
After the fall of Saddam, MEK members in Iraq were disarmed by agreement with U.S. forces and confined to Camp Ashraf in Diyala province. Iraqi authorities in 2012 moved them to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near the Baghdad airport.
Some 2,000 members of the group are still housed at Camp Liberty, with U.N.-led efforts underway to relocate them to a secure third country.
Both in Liberty and Ashraf, they have come under attack a number of times, most recently last October, when 24 were killed and more injured in a rocket attack claimed by an Iranian-backed Shi’a militia.
According to Shahin Gobadi, a member of the NCRI’s foreign affairs committee, this year’s event in Paris will be especially significant because of its timing.
It comes shortly after the first anniversary of the announcement of the nuclear agreement reached between the U.S. and five other powers and Iran.
“One year after the nuclear deal,” Gobadi said in a statement, the event “provides a different perspective on the situation and will offer a policy alternative to Western countries’ approach by emphasizing that the voice of Iranian people must be heard.”
The Paris event also takes place one week before the Republican National Convention and two weeks before the Democratic National Convention. The administration’s Iran policy has featured prominently during the presidential campaign, with presumptive nominees Trump and Hillary Clinton taking very different stances on the issue.
Gobadi noted the planned attendance of prominent Americans from both sides of the political spectrum.
“In the midst of a very contentious U.S. presidential campaign, there will be bipartisan support at the July 9 event for the goals and aspirations of the Iranian people.”
Gobadi said the event will provide Iranians with the opportunity to highlight that the notion of “moderation” under President Hasan Rouhani is “a total myth.”
“The only solution for Iran is regime change by Iranians and the organized resistance,” he said. “The first step to that effect will be imposing further sanctions on the clerical regime for flagrant human rights abuses and its role as the main state-sponsor of terror the world over.”
Apart from senior American attendees, organizers listed prominent European participants including former French, Italian and German cabinet ministers, other European officials and lawmakers, and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was held hostage by Colombia’s FARC rebels for six years before being rescued in 2008.
They said senior politicians and activists from Islamic countries would also take part, “including a delegation from the moderate Syrian opposition who are themselves victims of the Iranian regime’s support for Bashar Assad’s state machinery of terror.”