Editor's note: Part two of this column will go live Dec. 17, 2014.
Winston Churchill famously said “Jaw-Jaw is better than War-War.” He was right, of course. But with Iran, the mullahs have made War-War while engaging us in Jaw-Jaw. They have played us along with these nuclear talks.
Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. I met and talked with her for the first time this past June in Paris. This extended transcript is worth the time to study. The stakes could not be higher.
This is the voice of Iran’s freedom front. It’s been said that Iran’s mullahs with a nuclear weapon is “1,000 times more deadly” even than ISIS. Please take the time to read President Rajavi’s response to my questions:
1. In your view, why did the Iranian regime and the West fail to reach an accord on the nuclear issue despite the concessions offered by the West and especially the United States?
“The most important reason is that the regime's absolute ruler, Ali Khamenei, has not yet decided to abandon the path of developing nuclear weapons. The development of a nuclear weapon is one of the three facets of the clerical regime’s survival strategy. The two others are repressing both the citizenry and the opposition (particularly the Mujahedin-e Khalq or the MEK), as well as regional aggression. The absence of any one of these three elements would spell the collapse of the regime's entire strategy, opening the floodgates for popular uprisings.
Despite their insatiable appetite for western concessions, the mullahs do not want to lose power. Therefore, they would only forego the bomb if they sense that their survival is in danger, and if they feel that the risk of insisting on the nuclear project outweighs the risk of abandoning it. This balance can only be realized when the clerical regime is placed under maximum international pressure and sanctions. It cannot be realized when fruitless negotiations continue and the regime is actually rewarded and granted concessions for flouting UN Security Council resolutions or disregarding IAEA demands. These concessions have been counterproductive and they have rescued the mullahs from reaching their point of desperation.”
2. What do you think of the extension of the negotiations?
“The extension of the talks grants greater opportunities to the mullahs to obtain a nuclear bomb, and there can be no guarantees or optimistic outcomes. The extension revealed the failure of the U.S. policy, which was based on the assumption that it can convince this medieval regime to act rationally through appeasement, negotiations, not toughening the sanctions and even reducing their impact. Sanctions forced the regime to come to the negotiating table in Geneva in the first place. The easing of sanctions and western concessions to the regime have enabled Khamenei to expand the scope of his red lines and avoid the signing of a final deal.
It must be noted that this regime, on the basis of the red lines dictated by Khamenei and due to the profound crises it is facing, especially the explosive nature of social discontent, will dodge the signing of a comprehensive agreement as long as it possibly can, unless international pressure forces it to retreat."
3. How do you view the Obama administration's conduct toward Iran, including moves like sending letters to Khamenei?
"This conduct is not limited to writing letters. It has other dimensions, particularly maintaining silence with respect to human rights violations in Iran and inaction toward the attacks by the mullahs' puppet government in Iraq (Maliki) against Camps Ashraf and Liberty and the displacement of Ashraf residents, who had repeatedly been given written assurances for their safety and security by the United States.
As indicated in his speeches, Khamenei saw this as a sign of the U.S. weakness and was emboldened in his suppression of the Iranian people, development of nuclear weapons and pursuit of regional hegemony.
But as far as it concerns my compatriots, the people of Iran, they are extremely aggravated at such policies. They are the ones paying the price of this misguided policy with their blood and suffering. One can easily imagine how angry millions of Iranian families, who have had their children executed, tortured or suppressed by the mullahs, would be when they witness such conduct.
The slogan chanted by millions of Iranians during the 2009 uprisings is still relevant today: "Obama, you are either with the mullahs or with us."
4. Has this approach been helpful for solving the nuclear crisis?
"The failure of the intense negotiations from November 2013 to November 2014 indicated that displaying weakness, offering all sorts of incentives to the mullahs and indefensibly overlooking the regime's international obligations have ironically undermined the process of resolving this crisis.
It was an unreasonable mistake for the United States and its allies to officially allow the Iranian regime to violate UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program. It was a mistake to permit the regime to enrich uranium in contrast to the same resolutions, and it was a mistake to tolerate the regime's ballistic missiles program and its export of arms to other counties."
5. Has the recent regional crisis had an impact on Tehran's behavior during the negotiations?
"It has certainly increased the significance of acquiring nuclear weapons for Khamenei. Despite all his meddling, threats, and murders in Iraq, Khamenei failed to prevent the downfall of his proxy government (Maliki). This was a fundamental blow to the mullahs' domination over Iraq and it made Khamenei more fearful of the status of his rule in Iran itself. This is particularly the case since the regime has been unable to save Assad from the crisis in Syria over the past three years despite perpetrating an inhumane war through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). The actual fear over the crisis spilling into Iran, which would rattle the entire regime, has increased Khamenei's need for the bomb. As a result, he avoided any sort of flexibility during the negotiations."
6. How do you react to the idea that there should be a role for the Iranian regime in Iraq and specifically in the fight against ISIS, which could lay the groundwork for cooperation?
"This would be a repeat of disastrous past experiences, the consequences of which are still haunting the Middle East and the entire world, including in the United States. I am talking about the cooperation with the Iranian regime during the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and more importantly opening Iraq's doors to the Iranian regime, its surrogates and militias after the war to gradually solidify their control in Iraq. In practice, this policy has turned Iraq into a launching pad for the expansion of terrorism and fundamentalism led by Tehran. The rise of ISIS is one of the by-products of this policy. The people of Iraq see the clerical regime as an occupying power. Any form of cooperation with this regime would cast a shadow of doubt over the legitimacy of operations carried out by the international coalition. Such hypothetical cooperation would also fuel a conflict desired by ISIS, because ISIS is trying to paint its acts of terrorism as a battle between Shiites and Sunnis in a bid to recruit Sunnis to its ranks."
7. What do you think can solve the current regional crisis?
"The solution and the main key lies in the hands of the peoples of the region themselves. Confronting terrorism and extremism masquerading as Islam (whether in the form of ISIS or militias tied to the Iranian regime in Iraq) is only possibly through uniting people and anti-fundamentalist forces in the region. This is a war that has no answer in the battlefield without the complete participation of Sunnis and Sunni tribes. There can be no solution without the meaningful participation of the real representatives of the various Sunni factions in the Iraqi government. But, in order to realize that outcome, the Iranian regime and its militias must be evicted from Iraq. They are the obstacle to such a participation, and they inspire sectarian war and religious killings."
8. What shortcomings does American policy have?
"U.S. policy towards Iran and the entire Middle East suffers from lack of firmness toward the religious fascism ruling Iran, which is the central banker of terrorism and the godfather of ISIS. As a result, it hobbles from one mistake to the next. This happens for a number of basic reasons:
- The failure to realize the fundamental weakness and decaying of the Iranian regime;
- Lack of the minimum requisite understanding about the intensity of animosity harbored by the Iranian people towards the ruling regime, and the inability to see the massive social discontent;
- And, failure to recognize the role and potentials of the democratic alternative to this regime, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which thanks to its pivotal member organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), is the effective antithesis to fundamentalism and extremism masquerading as Islam."