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GOP figures criticize Obama's Iran policy in rally for controversial exile group

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Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 10:15 PM

PARIS - A group of prominent U.S. Republicans associated with homeland security told a forum of cheering Iranian exiles here Wednesday that President Obama's policy toward Iran amounts to futile appeasement that will never persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear projects.

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The Americans - former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former secretary of homeland security Tom Ridge, former White House homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend and former attorney general Michael Mukasey - demanded that Obama instead take the controversial Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK) opposition group off the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations and incorporate it into efforts to overturn the mullah-led government in Tehran.

"Appeasement of dictators leads to war, destruction and the loss of human lives," Giuliani declared. "For your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just really a disgrace."

The four GOP figures appeared at a rally organized by the French Committee for a Democratic Iran, a pressure group formed to support MEK.

Their crowd-pleasing appeals, they said, reflected growing bipartisan sentiment in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere that the 13-year-old terrorist designation of the Paris-based dissident group should be ended because it is unfounded and has not made the Iranian government easier to deal with or halt its nuclear program. In addition, they noted, a Washington federal appeals court in July ordered Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to review the listing, and cast doubt on some of the information brought forward to support it.

The group, the largest and most active Iranian exile organization, was added to the list in 1997 as part of an effort by President Bill Clinton's administration to reach out to Tehran. It has been maintained since then, apparently to avoid antagonizing the Iranian leadership while the United States fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The accusations against Obama, while consonant with other conservative statements on the matter, seemed particularly starkly worded.

"If the United States truly wants to put pressure on the Iranian regime, it takes more than talk and it takes more than sanctions," Townsend said, without specifying what should be done.

More explicit, Mukasey urged the Obama administration to offer "all possible technical and covert support to those fighting to end oppression in Iran." He added, "What it has done and what it is doing is nothing less than an embarrassment."

With the exception of Giuliani, who earned praise for his leadership after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York, the speakers were senior homeland security figures in the George W. Bush administration, which also maintained MEK's terrorism designation. Ridge and Giuliani have since founded security consultancy businesses.

"I join with all of you in believing the United States must lift the [terrorism] designation immediately," Ridge said. "Goodwill gestures have no effect on countries or individuals that have no goodwill."

All four speakers equated the exile group with the Iranian opposition, saying it must be supported to help get rid of the government headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and overseen by a committee of senior Shiite Muslim scholars. Only then, they said, can the world be certain that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons and threaten the Middle East.

"The United States should not just be on your side," Giuliani said. "It should be enthusiastically on your side. You want the same things we want."

Reports from Iran have noted, however, that the outpouring of opposition after last year's contested election revolved around unsuccessful presidential candidates who live in Iran and not the Paris-based MEK. The exiles lost much of their following in the country after their armed faction, which was based in Iraq, functioned as a division of the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

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