A rally in Paris on July 1 of Iranian resistance groups reveals an opportunity for President Trump to increase his leverage in dealing with Iran, as he seeks to manage U.S. engagement in the greater Middle East and confront radical Islamist terrorism.
Prince Turki is the Saudi in Paris. He called for regime change in Iran and commanded attention; when he returned, a crisis almost brewed, offering Tump an opportunity to build upon the diplomatic initiative in the "Qatari-Saudi Crisis." It presented him an occasion to show leadership in U.S. efforts against terrorism and isolation of Iran. And the crisis continues to escalate.
Breaking news complicated the "Qatari-Saudi Crisis" even further, making it the "Qatari-Saudi-UAE Crisis." The Washington Post reports on July 16, 2017, U.S. intelligence found in late May that Qatar orchestrated hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir.
The Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott. Multi-crises set the scene for looking back and looking forward to assess effects of Prince Turki's addresses to Iranian dissidents in Paris in 2016 and 2017.
On Oct. 4, 2016, co-author Tanter penned "Preparing for Regime Change in Iran," which used a July 9, 2016 address by Prince Turki where he said,
"Maryam Rajavi, your endeavour to rid your people of the Khomeinist cancer is an historic epic that…will remain inscribed in the annals of history."
When the Farsi-speaking crowd chanted, "The people want regime change," the Prince joined in Arabic saying, "I, too, want regime change" in Iran, a remark that brought the house down. When the applause subsided, Turki said,
"Countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the Arab and Persian Gulf and their neighbor Iran lived in a state of coexistence until the Khomeini revolution of 1979."
On July 1, 2017, Tanter attended another address by Turki in Paris. The 2016 address was barn-storming; 2017 is likely to have more impact a political decision by Riyadh to stand against Tehran and with the resistance.
In 2016, Prince Faisal made the argument the Iranian regime does not represent the Iranian people or its rich history and culture; in 2017, he went further, adding new angles. This year, Turki added that Iran did not represent the Shiite sect, and rule by a Supreme Leader nothing to do with Shiism. He referred to a speech in Paris by President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Maryam Rajavi. (The largest unit of the NCRI is the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran — PMOI aka, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq or MEK.)
Rajavi said all sectors of the Iranian population, including Kurds, Arabs, Baluchis, are being suppressed by the regime. Rajavi and Turki concurred they are part of the territorial integrity of the country, in sharp contrast to Tehran’s propaganda that Iranian ethnic minorities are actually separatists, and therefore it is not only legitimate to suppress them but an obligation to do so.
Riding a large turnout from Iran’s urban middle classes, President Hassan Rouhani won re-election in a landslide on May 19-20, giving him a mandate to continue his quest to open Iran’s ailing economy to global investors, per The New York Times.
The Islamic-American summit in Riyadh created conditions for further isolation of Iran from the Islamic world and a new coalition with Washington formed to isolate Tehran. Saudi Arabia excluded Iran from participating in the summit, adding insult to injury. In addition, NCRI members were out of harm’s way in Iraq and away from the regime’s reach in Albania.
There’s also is a new "Sheriff in town," expressed in his Riyadh address: Trump the dealmaker but one with core principles like "Drive them out." "Drive them out of your places of worship," Trump said, "drive them out of your holy land. Drive them out of this earth."
The Iranian resistance benefits from aligning with the United States because the resistance is firmly in the camp of civilized states and does not commit acts of barbarism. Hence, Trump is more likely to reach out to the Iranian opposition during his review of Iran policy than did Barack Obama, who valued the nuclear deal with Tehran too much to jeopardize it by opening up to the resistance.
After the July 1 rally in Paris, Fox News reported the next day the president might defy the Iranian regime by signalling his willingness to look kindly on the resistance: "The Trump administration is potentially considering seeking a strategy to try to topple the regime." The resistance, however, only needs American political and perhaps economic support to effect "regime change from within." Even if not going so far as toppling the regime, Trump could increase his leverage against the Ayatollahs by supporting the resistance, conditioned on its continued eschewing of terrorist tactics.
Finally, there is an opportunity for Trump to extend a hand to Iranian dissidents and build on his diplomatic initiatives where he is making progress, such as the counterterrorism coalition with Muslim-majority states. The breaking news multi-crises stated above provide Trump with greater justifications for exercising leadership.
Dr. Raymond Tanter @AmericanCHR served as a senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan. Edward Stafford @egstafford is a retired Foreign Service officer; he served in Political-Military Affairs at the State Department, as a diplomat with the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, and taught at the Inter-American Defense College. To read more of Tanter's reports — Click Here Now.
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