An aggressive effort to assist the growing Iranian resistance groups
Radio America-Dateline, February 9, 2007
Greg Corombus: My next guest in this edition is Alireza Jafarzadeh, former spokesman for the Iranian parliament in exile and head of Strategic Policy Consulting here in Washington. Mr. Jafarzadeh was the first to inform the Western world of Iranís ambition to develop nuclear weapons and he is now the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis. In this book he advocates an aggressive effort to assist the growing Iranian resistance groups rather than any sort of military or diplomatic solution. And Alireza thank you very much for being with us.
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Thank you very much, Greg. Itís always a pleasure to be on your show.
Greg Corombus: Thank you very much for saying so, and letís start with the origins of the nuclear ambitions we really learned about just a few years ago. Obviously you were aware of it prior to most of us. When exactly did the Islamic Regime there decide that this in fact was going to be a high priority to get nuclear weapons in their arsenal?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Iíve discussed in detail about this whole background because itís very important to know that this is not just something that they came up with recently. This was a part of their agenda since day one really. In the very early days after the Revolution, especially when the Iran-Iraq War started and the war wasnít going very well for the regime. In the early eighties they made it a top priority to develop a nuclear weapons program, and obviously it had to be top secret: keeping everything away from the eyes of the international community, and they have had the Iranian Revolutionary Guards involved in this program since the very beginning, and they have kept this secret for eighteen years until I came up with the revelations on the two major nuclear sites, Natanz and Arak, where they were doing uranium enrichment, and also they were developing a heavy water facility, this is thanks to the sources of the main Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran that got the information out of the country.
Greg Corombus: Alireza, one of the things that have changed in recent years though is the level of insightful language coming out of Tehran, specifically since the rise of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Is this his idea, or is he simply the mouthpiece of the mullahs and other clerics who truly run the country?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: No itís not just his idea, Greg. You know, he is really the president for the Supreme Leader. He represents the regime in the best way possible: ideologically, politically, and militarily. He has the full backing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards of which he was one of. Heís totally in line with the Supreme Leader. Now the reason that you have Ahmadinejad at the helm as opposed to Khatami, the so-called moderate who was in office for eight years, is that the Iranian regime decided that they are in deep trouble, nothing is going well for them domestically, the population is vehemently opposed to the regime, and internationally things are getting tougher and tougher for them: both in terms of whatís happening in Afghanistan and whatís happening in Iraq. So they decided that the only way out of it, the only way to survive, is to go on the offensive, to speed up the process of developing the nuclear weapons program and turn Iraq into an Islamic Republic, and to accomplish that, they needed somebody like Ahmadinejad, even though he was totally unknown to the public, he was totally unknown to the outside world, but because the Supreme Leader had decided, thatís how he became president.
Greg Corombus: Most of the international community, when it comes to rogue regimes, Alireza, is pretty intent on doing nothing, especially when that regime gives public signs that itís acting in a responsible manner. Iranís doing exactly the opposite, instead playing nice in order to buy time to build up its nuclear program, itís inciting Israel, itís attacking the West verbally. Why do you think theyíre pursuing that particular strategy?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Because, Greg, they feel itís working. The international community is not as decisive as they should be. They feel that the United States it tied up in Iraq so their resources might be limited in terms of getting, for instance, the military involved; theyíre still engaged in Afghanistan. They are counting on the public opinion here in the United States and in Europe, saying that they can easily get away with further, upping the ante and moving forward, and speed up the process because they want to get to the finish line, which is getting the bomb, as rapidly as possible before the windows of opportunity are closed. What they are not really considering is that there is a third option: the option of reaching out to the Iranian people by the international community, the fact that the United States is not limited to problematic military options and fruitless diplomatic options, and I think thatís why weíre hearing more and more, both from the Republicans and from the Democrats, especially in Congress, saying reach out to the Iranian people, strengthen and empower the opposition, and let them change the regime
Greg Corombus: And I want to definitely get into the resistance groups in just a moment, but just a quick two part question on the nuclear situation, first of all how close do you think they are to functioning nuclear weapons and secondly once they get to that point what's the most likely method of deployment, would it be through missiles, through the use of Hezbollah's or some other method?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Right, well in terms of giving an exact timing its very difficult to say it. Why? Because with all the things we know about Iran's nuclear weapons program there is still a great deal that we donít know, and remember just four years ago we knew none of the things that we know, and practically no one had any picture about the nuclear weapons program of Iran, so we can always be underestimating the level of advancement of the Iranian regime as the entire world did just four years ago. Nevertheless given what we know already I think we are talking about anywhere between 1-3 years before the Iranian regime can actually precede with the program and be able to make its own nuclear bomb. This is not taking to consideration the assistance they might get and you know getting the bomb in the black market or some other things that we donít know In terms of the delivery system, what Iran is working on extensively is the missiles, they have they Shahab 3 missiles which could become nuclear capable, capable of carrying the nuclear warhead once they complete the technology. They are also counting on the terrorist groups as well as you know Iran is the worlds leading state sponsor of terrorism. They are trying to strengthen their positions with these terrorism groups whether itís in Iraq or in the Middle East so you should always keep that into consideration
Greg Corombus: Letís talk about the resistance groups now. First of all, at this point, how organized are they and what sort of idea do they have for regime change, and whatís their goal of achieving that?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Well the opposition is extremely organized both inside Iran and outside of Iran and the reason I say it is because they have been extremely effective in consistently providing the most valuable, the most secretive information about Iran's nuclear weapons program, about Iran's terror network, about Iran's violent intervention in Iraq. They also provide valuable information about what Iran was doing in Lebanon just a couple of months ago. They also have a very organized presence in Europe, the headquarters of the parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran is in Paris, consists of some 500 members from all sectors of the Iranian society, either their Christian, Jewish people, Zoroastrians, Shiite Muslims, non believers, Sunni's will all sit in the Parliament of exile around a very secular program. They believe in religious tolerance and equality for women. Actually the leader is a woman; her name is Ms. Maryam Rajavi. She is very anti- fundamentalist, anti-extremist. Her method is very appealing to the Iranian population who want to keep their religion, but they donít want to follow the repressive Ayatollahs. Also in Iraq, they have a large presence; some 4,000 members of the main organization within the Parliament of Exile called the Mojahedin el-Khalq, or the MEK are present in a large camp north of Baghdad known as Ashraf city. They have built a very good relationship with the US military, helping them in terms of their protection, and they provide a lot of intelligence on where these IEDs are being built, how they are being sneaked into Iraq, and how the regime is recruiting intelligence agents that are targeting the American troops, and they also have been very effective in organizing and helping the Iraqi's to support a very secular, moderate agenda as opposed to the extremists agenda that is being espoused by Tehran so they have really acted kind of like a counter balance to the rising tide of the extremists coming from the Iranian side, and many from Iraq believe that the position of the MEK should be further strengthened. They believe that the fact that the State Department continues to list the group as terrorists, when they started labeling the group in 1997 right after the so-called moderate president Khatami had taken office, saying this policy is counter productive and now with Ahmadinejad in office, it only hurts the United States to call the main Iranian opposition as terrorists. That policy should change.
Greg Corombus: In our last couple minutes here, Ali, what help do they need from us and other freedom loving countries? And how do we get it to them?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Thatís a very good question Greg. We are not talking about money, weíre not talking about arms, we are not talking about even soldiers to do the fighting for them. All theyíre asking is that we need political understanding. We need to be encouraged and empowered when we are fighting the Ayatollahs. Theyíre saying when their students stand up in Tehran against the Iranian regime, they should be supported. When the Iranian opposition is fighting the ayatollahs, they should be regarded as freedom fighters, they should be regarded as legitimate opposition, and not terrorists. So all their saying is that many members of Congress in a bi-partisan way are now endorsing this idea that the terrorist label should be removed. The best help the US can provide is to untie their hands because that terrorist designation is extremely harmful for any group that gets on that terrorist list. This way it will further encourage the Iranian population, sending a signal to the Iranians that the United States is now ready for change, for a fundamental change in Iran, is now ready to support the Iranians. and is now ready to isolate the Iranian Regime. Thatís what we havenít been doing and thatís what I think needs to be done, immediately.
Greg Corombus: And how close are we to achieving that?
Alireza Jafarzadeh: I think there is some move in the Congress especially, on both sides of the aisle. Itís very encouraging that some of the Democratic members who were not as supportive in the past are now realizing that the national security threat is not a partisan issue, and they really need to focus on the threat coming from Tehran, and also there are some within the administrations, even though they cannot be as vocal as they should be, who are saying that the situation has now changed from 1997 The designation, for whatever reason, was done, the terrorist designation is not valid any more. Many argue that the terrorist designation was done at the time as a goodwill gesture to Tehran, it backfired, itís counter productive. Letís do the change now, and there are some moves, in Europe also. A court in Europe basically overruled that the designation that was done by the European Parliament when they followed the US State Department model, and they said it was illegal to designate this group as terrorists. So I see a worldwide, basically a campaign trying to help the Iranians trying empower themselves, remove the terrorist designation, and put Tehran under very meaningful pressure and give the real prospect for change in Iran.
Greg Corombus: And itís going to be imperative here, with a small window of opportunity given the schedule you mentioned earlier about their nuclear development. Ali, thank you very much for being with us.
Alireza Jafarzadeh: Thank you very much Craig, delighted to be on the show, always.
Greg Corombus: Good to have you as well sir. Alireza Jafarzadeh, former spokesmen for the Iranian Parliament in exile. His new book is the Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis. This is Dateline Washington.