Ending Iran’s threat will come through talking to the correct people, not shooting at them
By Struan Stevenson, MEP*
The Scotsman, December, 27 – Tony Blair’s bellicose speech in Dubai in which he denounced Iran as the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East, marks something of a turning point in the Prime Minister’s increasingly muddled messages on foreign policy. Only three weeks ago, he was urging his great pal George Bush to ask Iran for help in solving the catastrophe which the two of them unleashed in neighboring Iraq. As usual, Mr. Bush told Mr. Blair immediately performed a high-speed policy U-turn.
At least for now, Me Blair appears to be facing in the right direction. One of the major foreign-policy issues before the European Union is how to handle the Tehran regime. Its drive to acquire nuclear weapons, repeated calls for the destruction of Israel, denial of the Holocaust and extensive meddling in Iraq are all issues of great concern, with no easy solutions in sight.
But a ruling by the European Court of Justice last week could have provided a golden opportunity for the EU to adopt a new and firm policy on Iran – only if the moment is seized by the policymakers in Brussels. The European Court of First Instance, on 12 December, annulled the “joint decision of the Council of Ministers of the European Union” to place the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), the main Iranian resistance movement, on the bloc’s terror list. The ruling overturned a 2002 decision to freeze all European assets of the PMOI.
In its ruling, the European court said the group was not given a fair hearing to defend itself. “Certain fundamental rights and safeguards, including the right to a fair hearing, the obligation to state reasons and the right to effective judicial protection are, as a matter of principle, fully applicable,” the court said. Ostensibly, the decision would put the EU in a quandary. It might force the bloc to rethink the way it compiles its terror blacklist and, as a result, it could force member states to bring to light the inner workings of the EU terrorism list in 2007.
But reality could be very different. The court ruling could be a blessing in disguise and set the stage for the EU to take a new direction on Iran. For 16 years, the EU banked on the premise of dealing with a moderating faction within the Iranian regime. It began with Ayatollah Khomeini’s death in 1989 and the presidency of Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was dubbed as “pragmatic”. Then, in 1997, Europe saw a new hope – the election of Mohammed Khatami, a so-called “moderate” as president. The Europeans geared up their rapprochement with Tehran for eight more years, during which they failed to censure Iran’s oppressive record on torture, execution and brutality, and instead commenced “human rights dialogue” with the executioners, expanded trade and allowed Tehran to push forward at full speed on its goal to obtain nuclear weapons. European complicity, acquiescence and its recurring habit of turning a blind eye continued apace.
On top of it all, the EU designated the PMOI as a terrorist organization. Senior European diplomats, including the UK’s former foreign secretary Jack Straw, have acknowledged that the PMOI figured prominently as a bargaining chip in a bridge-building effort with Tehran.
The “moderate” fantasy completely ran aground last year when the regime’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, engineered the “election” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a diehard Revolutionary Guard commander as president, shattering all dreams (and dreams are all they were) about reform or moderation. Sixteen years of Western concessions and negotiations with the regime gave it the opportunity to put in power the most extremist factions.
Now Tehran’s mullahs are snubbing their noses at the EU by rejecting all UN resolutions, in their drive to obtain nuclear weapons. They continue to fuel the insurgency in Iraq with money, men and weapons. They finance Hamas in Palestine and were the paymasters behind Hezbollah’s recent war against Israel in Lebanon. On top of it all, Tehran repeatedly calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. Soon they will have the means to carry out this threat.
The time has come for a different policy on Iran – and a new approach to the Iranian opposition should be part and parcel of it. Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the Iranian resistance, reiterated at a meeting in the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, that the correct policy on Iran is neither appeasement nor foreign military invasion. Rather, what is needed is a change from within Iran, which can be assisted by the West providing moral and political support for the Iranians people and the main resistance movement. The recent unrest by Iranian university students and open defiance against Mr. Ahmadinejad was a clear indicator of a population ready for change.
In light of the Luxembourg court decision, keeping the PMOI on the EU terror list would be a huge mistake by the EU from every aspect. Leally, it would be tantamount to defying the European Court order, making a mockery out of the European judiciary and the EU’s system of checks and balances. Politically, it would be a fiasco, since it would be a fiasco, since it would send the worst possible message of appeasement and weakness to Teheran’s mullahs. Appeasing tyrants never works. The way to deal with a fascist despot like Ahmadinejad is from a position of strength. For once, Mr. Bair seems to have got it right – Iran does pose the greatest threat to world peace. Sort out Iran and peace in the Middle East can follow. And the way to sort out Iran is by backing the brave Iranian people through their main opposition group the PMOI.
*Struan Stevenson is a Conservative MEP for Scotland. He is vice president of the EPP-ED Group of 265 MEPs in the European Parliament and co-chair of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup.