Dr. Seyed Hossein Mousavian is a Middle East Security and Nuclear Policy Specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. From 1997 to 2005, he was the head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council; from 2003 to 2005, he served as spokesman for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union. He is author of “The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir” published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in June 2012. Mousavian earned a PhD in international relations from the University of Kent in the U.K. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Tehran and studied his bachelor at the University of California, Sacramento. Following is a brief interview of Habilian Association with Dr. Mousavian on the current situation of terrorist Mujahedin-e Khalq organization (MEK, a.k.a MKO, NCRI, PMOI, etc).
Habilian: Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization's nature as a terrorist cult has remained the same since its establishment, but it has changed face several times over years. They posed themselves as a Guerrilla group fighting imperialism before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, then they fought against the Iranian government and sided with the country's enemies, conducting hundreds of terrorist attacks inside Iran, killing thousands of Iranian civilians and officials. And now it's been a while that they are depicting themselves as a political alternative to Iran's democratically elected government. Some Western politicians are obviously buying MEK's new disguise. Do you think with Trump administration at work in the White House, is there going to be a strategic change in U.S. view of the MEK? Do you think it is possible that the U.S. administration reaches a consensus to openly support a group like the MEK? How about the European Union? Please elaborate on your view.
Mousavian: Given the Trump administration's regime change policy towards Iran, Iranian opposition groups have raced to get the White House's embrace. At the same time Reza Pahlavi wrote a letter to Trump and did an interview with Trump-outlet Breitbart, the MEK spearheaded anti-Iran and pro-Trump letter campaigns and continued its lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill with increased vigor. At the latest MEK rally in Paris, Trump allies and longtime MEK supporters Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani were present.
It remains to be seen whether the Trump administration will openly express endorse for any of these groups, but they may play a role in the administration's regime change policy, and perhaps factored into Rex Tillerson's statement that United States will rely on "elements inside of Iran" to bring about a "peaceful transition" of the government.
In Europe, despite the MEK's influence among some EU parliamentarians, the EU at the highest levels is still staunchly pro-engagement with Iran, with Frederica Mogherini due to attend Rouhani's inauguration. For the EU to make a sudden turnaround and support a group like the MEK is highly unlikely—especially given their vested economic interests—unless the United States makes a strategic change of its view towards the MEK and brings significant pressure on Europe, such as secondary sanctions, to follow course.
Habilian: From a global security point of view, how are groups like the MEK viewed by security experts? What political future can be assumed for the MEK?
Mousavian: According to numerous independent studies, including by U.S. research organizations such as RAND, the MEK is a wholly illegitimate cult whose existence is entirely reliant on patronage by countries hostile to Iran. Its future depends only on the extent to which it can continue doing the bidding of these benefactors, which nowadays is chiefly Saudi Arabia.
Habilian: Saudi Arabia has apparently joined the club of MEK supporters. Could the MEK-Saudi connection worsen the already chaotic security situation in the Middle East?
Mousavian: Saudi Arabia's endorsement of the MEK reflects their utterly poor understanding of Iran and Iranian politics. By supporting the MEK, they gain absolutely no bargaining chip or leverage over Iran—if that is the motivation—but only increase the apathy of the Iranian public towards them and thus, make the prospects for successful Iran-Saudi diplomacy more difficult.
Habilian: Could the recent military breakthroughs achieved by Iran and its allies in the region intensify the tension between Saudi led axis and Iran? Especially with the new crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman coming to power soon. Are the Saudis counting on MEK's experience of perpetrating terrorism in the country to hurt Iran's security?
Mousavian: The consolidation of control over their territories by the Syrian and Iraqi governments should convince Saudi leaders that their attempts to subvert these governments have failed. Now that Mohammad bin Salman has secured his throne, he would be wise to end these foreign adventures which have entangled his country and cost it dearly and pursue diplomacy.
Habilian: The newly elected French government on one hand seems to prefer better economic and diplomatic ties with Iran and on the other hand they allow a detested group like the MEK to hold rallies and openly call for the overthrow of the legal and democratically elected government in the country. How could this double-standard be justified by French cabinet?
Mousavian: France is playing a hypocritical and destabilizing game by hosting the MEK, a group that has no place in any democratic or civilized society. If France wants to signal to Iran that it is serious about its intention to improve its political and economic relations with Iran, it must stop allowing the group to operate on French soil.