Iran: Threats, Challenges and Prospects for Change

February 15, 2006


Raymond Tanter


Iran Policy Committee

It is with great pleasure for me to thank the Members of Congress who organized this very important briefing. The opportunity to participate in this briefing is an occasion for which I am most grateful. The honor of hearing from the Members is a privilege to which I look forward. Thanks to Representative Towns, Filner, Boozman, Jackson-Lee, Tancredo, and Bernice-Johnson for their support.

Please allow me to cut to the chase and begin with my conclusions:

• Coercive diplomacy, military action, and regime change for Iran are three options for the international community

• Rather than sliding into military action as coercive diplomacy also fails, it is time to consider regime change for Iran.

• Because the only possibility to carry out regime change is via the groups feared by the regime in Tehran, the United States should remove their terrorist designation

Coercive diplomacy combines threat of force with promise of diplomacy. For several years, the European Union pursued a policy of promise without threat, ostensibly in order to bolster the fortunes of moderates like President Khatami relative to the likes of the Supreme Leader and President of Iran. Rather than reinforcing the moderates, however, there has been a consolidation of power under the Supreme Leader and his appointed president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Diplomacy without a threat to back it up is like a martini with all vermouth and no gin or vodka-not much of a bite for the buck. With failing diplomacy of promises, coercive diplomacy enters the picture, perhaps as a prelude to military action.

But what about a policy of regime change before turning to military action? The connection between military action and regime change is apparent in such cases as the takedown of Saddam Hussein in 2003. At issue is how to bring about regime change.

The U.S. Government has a Department of State for diplomacy and a Department of Defense for the use of force. But there is no Department of Regime Change! It is a good idea that such a department does not exist in the American bureaucracy. Such change should be in the hands of the Iranian people rather than with foreigners.


Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program

• The Government of Iran has a nuclear weapons program in violation of its commitments under the Nonproliferation Treaty

• Such violations are leading to reconsideration of options by the international community

Quest for a Complete Nuclear Fuel Cycle en route to The Bomb

• Saghand Uranium Mines
• Ardekan Processing Site-Yellow Cake)
• Bandar Abbas (Yellow Cake)
• Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility
• Natanz Uranium Enrichment plant

• Mining of raw uranium to create yellow cake
• Converting yellow cake to uranium gas, UF-6-the feedstock for enrichment
• Feeding gas into centrifuges to enrich for peaceful power generation and/or bomb-grade nuclear fuel

Once the regime has the technology and knowledge to enrich gas at low levels for peaceful nuclear power, Tehran is a screwdriver's turn away from enriching to bomb-grade levels.


• The Iranian resistance exposed one of the first nuclear-related violations by the Government of Iran in August 2002 at the Natanz nuclear site

•A private company then released satellite imagery in December 2002, and the IAEA initiated inspections in February 2003, finding centrifuge machines for enriching uranium gas

• By February 2004, the Natanz site had just about disappeared into underground locations

• A comparison of satellite images of Natanz in 2002 and in 2004 is revealing of the depth in which the regime would go to conceal its violations of the nonproliferation regime

• Covert construction continues at the Natanz site, and Tehran broke the seals at Natanz, indicating an intention to enrich uranium gas contrary to its accord with the European Union and obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency


Referral of Iran's Nuclear File from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the United Nations

IAEA Board of Governors vote to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council (U.S., U.K., France - yes; Russia, China-abstain)

U.N. Security Council Resolution

Chapter 6: non-binding on member states
• Resolution expressing condemnation of Iran's failure to meet NPT obligations
• Resolution expressing support for additional negotiated efforts to bring Iran into compliance

Chapter 7: Resolution binding on member states
• expressing condemnation of Iran
• setting a deadline and sequence of required steps by Iran
• to impose sanctions on Iran
•Economic and Trade sanctions
• Ban on oil purchases
• Ban on oil pipeline transport or use
• Revocation of Iranian airline landing and/or overflight rights through U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization
• Revocation of Iranian shipping privileges: transit of national waters, docking, port calls via the International Maritime Organization
• Prohibition of all or some financial transactions with Iran by member states
• Freezing of Iranian government assets in member states' banks
• Withdrawal of all/some support for Iranian participation in international lending organizations (IMF, World Bank, EBRD, IBRD, etc.)
• Suspension of Iran's WTO membership privileges

• Suspension of Iranian membership privileges in other U.N. organizations
International Labor Organization
International Telecommunications Organization

o Sport
o Ban from Olympic sporting events
o Ban from World Cup soccer events

U.S. Unilateral Measures
• Increased funding and strong congressional backing for radio and satellite TV broadcasts into Iran
• Conduct additional hearings in appropriate committees, sub-committees in Senate and House on issues related to Iran
• Assign the Congressional Research Service to perform research, issue papers on national security threat of Iranian regime
• Have Members reach out to Iranian-American constituencies in home districts, hold town hall meetings, meet with leading local Iranian Diaspora business, academic figures

White House
• Public statements of support from American officials in favor of imprisoned Iranian political leaders, journalists, students, bloggers-by name
• Public statements of condemnation for irresponsibility of Iranian regime in failing to meet its obligations to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and for putting country in perilous situation vis-à-vis the international community
• Public statements of condemnation of Iran's nuclear weapons program
• Public warnings about U.S. military, other options vs. Iranian regime
• President Bush should publicly declare regime change in Iran is U.S. official policy
• Public declarations, demonstrations of support for Israel, especially though March election period
• President Bush should devote a strongly-worded section of the State of the Union Address to Iran and include appropriate opposition figure(s) in the audience
• Vice President Cheney and President Bush should deliver administration's message about Iran in speeches at appropriate locations around the country in a concentrated schedule of appearances

Department of State
• Secretary of State should continue work with U.S. partners and allies to solidify diplomatic support for strong action at the U.N. Security Council
• Refuse to issue permission to Iran's U.N. representatives to travel beyond usual 25-mile NYC radius
• Refuse to issue visas to Iran's U.N. representatives to enter the country
• Revocation of the visas of Iran's U.N. representatives
• Declare Iran's U.N. representatives Persona Non Grata (PNG)
• Permit Iran's U.N. representatives 48-hours to leave the country
• Deploy Bureau of Public Diplomacy staff to mount global offensive with friends, allies and others to expose Iranian regime duplicity on nuclear issues, support for terrorism, involvement in narcotics and prostitution trafficking


Department of Defense

Limited Military Actions
o Order U.S. Naval vessels to shadow/harass Iranian ships at sea in international waters
o Order U.S. Air Force to conduct intrusions, overflights of Iranian territory
o Execute sabotage missions vs. Iranian WMD sites in-country by SpecOps teams or proxies
o Conduct selective targeted killings of regime leadership and key WMD infrastructure personnel inside Iran
o Begin to move aircraft carriers toward Persian Gulf

Moderate Military Actions
o Limited naval blockade that overtly conducts surveillance and harasses Iranian flagged shipping
o stationing of U.S. Marine amphibious forces off the coast; overt equipping of Iranian dissident groups; limited precision strikes or special operations activities against known WMD targets or munitions factories

Maximum Military Actions
o Airstrikes to disable and destroy command and control centers, anti-aircraft capabilities, as well as key military and logistics centers
o Full-scale naval blockade
o landing of U.S. Marine Corps amphibious forces at strategic locations
o Introduction of airborne, Ranger, Green Beret, or SEAL forces to seize key objectives
o Cross-border invasion by land forces

Given failing diplomacy, lack of resolve for coercive diplomacy, and risks inherent in military action, there is a need for a third set of options-regime change in Tehran.

In order to begin the process of regime change, the United States has to come to grips with the fact that the only Iranian opposition groups Tehran fears is the Mujahedin e-Khalq and its political family of organizations in the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

White House
• President Bush should issue a Finding or Presidential Directive authorizing all appropriate measures to effect regime change in Iran
• Act of Congress to remove the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list
• State Department should take immediate action to remove the Mujahedin e-Khalq MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list

Intelligence Community
• Launch propaganda covert action inside Iran
• Sow doubt within regime
• Encourage opposition to take action
• Attempt unification of opposition factions
• Incite infighting within regime by setting various figures, factions against one another
• Inform the population about Iran's nuclear weapons program
• Demonstrate to Iranian population existence of outside support for regime change
• Organize covert action propaganda, press placements, demonstrations, vs. Iranian diplomatic, military and commercial representations abroad
• Execute cold pitches against Iranian diplomatic, military and MOIS representatives abroad as harassment
• Craft and deliver more thoughtful recruitment pitches against genuine Iranian operational targets
• Perform surreptitious entry operations against Iranian diplomatic, other representatives' homes and offices abroad
• Mount harassing surveillance of Iranian diplomatic, MOIS representatives serving abroad
Legal Allegations

The second IPC study concerns allegations made by the Department of State, to justify the FTO designation of the MEK. State levies four main charges against the MEK.
• Killing several Department of Defense officers and contractors during the 1970s
• Supporting the takeover of the American embassy in Tehran in 1979
• Collaborating with Saddam Hussein to suppress Kurds in northern Iraq and Shi'ites in the south
• Launching terrorist attacks against the Iranian regime

The IPC research team finds that allegations against the MEK charging involvement in the killing of Americans in Iran in the 1970s, support for the Tehran Embassy seizure and hostage crisis, collusion with Saddam Hussein in suppression of the Kurds and Shi'ites, and launching of cross-border terrorist attacks against Iran are unsupported by the facts.

Killing Department of Defense Officers and Contractors during the 1970s

The IPC investigation included an open-source review of declassified U.S. Government documents, newspapers reports from the time of the killings, and books by a variety of American, Iranian, and other authors. The team supplemented these sources with in-person interviews of current and former MEK members, input from Iraqi officials and citizens, plus discussions with U.S. military officers who served at Camp Ashraf, Iraq.

The bottom line is that a few individuals hijacked the MEK, killed Americans, and it only appears as if the MEK were to blame. The IPC concludes that the murder of the six Americans in the 1970s was entirely the responsibility of individuals who had carried out a bloody coup d'etat in the MEK, and the legitimate leadership and members of MEK rejected the assassins.

Supporting the Takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979

Independent academic research by an IPC Task Force uncovered primary source documents of the period that cast serious doubt on the likelihood that MEK members supported the U.S. Embassy takeover or subsequent seizure of Americans. Understanding of the political situation was so limited that many groups were easily confused and mistaken for rival and even hostile organizations. In particular, the American Embassy was confused about the identity and role of the MEK during this period of the Iranian Revolution.

Collaborating with Saddam Hussein to Suppress Kurds in Northern Iraq and Shi'ites in the South

The IPC Task Force also conducted its own investigation of charges of MEK collaboration against the Kurds. The IPC collected statements from credible Iraqi sources and American military officers who served at Camp Ashraf, Iraq. The IPC also held direct discussions with current and former MEK members. The findings confirm Iraqi and MEK denials of any such role by the MEK in suppression of the Kurdish people.

In 2002, Reuters obtained a document from a civil suit being conducted in the Netherlands testifying that the MEK had no part in Saddam's brutal operations against the Kurds. The document, signed by a principal Kurdish political official, said that the MEK was not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people neither during the uprising or in its aftermath.

Launching terrorist attacks against the Iranian regime

Although the MEK has not been involved in any violence against western targets, it has taken part in a long struggle to free Iran from the rule of its clerics. During that time, the record shows that the MEK attacked only regime military and security targets and has no history of attacking innocent civilians or other noncombatants. In fact, even the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism notes that the MEK had only targeted members of the clerical regime and its enforcement officers, particularly those who were in charge of interrogations and torture in the Iranian prison system.

Delisting of the MEK from the FTO list is the first step in addressing such threats from Iran. The IPC expects the first step to be a trigger for a number of positive outcomes. Delisting of the MEK from the FTO list would:
• Reinforce President Bush's promise that America stands with the people of Iran in their struggle to liberate themselves and send a strong message to the Iranian people that America is on their side.
• Signal the unified resolution of the U.S. administration to support a policy of regime change in Tehran, thereby putting the clerical rulers on notice that a new option is on the table, and that America is not limited to an infeasible military option or failed diplomatic option. The Iranian regime would know it faces an enabled and determined opposition on its borders; this should shift the attitude of the Ahmadinejad presidency from an offensive mode to a defensive one.
• Encourage a similar move on the part of the European Union (EU). The EU and especially the EU-3, which has been at the forefront of efforts to negotiate with Iran on the subject of its nuclear program, would benefit from the knowledge that a backup plan is now in place should their diplomatic initiatives reach a dead end. In the short term, such knowledge would bolster the negotiating position of the EU-3 with Iran, improving the chances of eliciting better cooperation from Tehran.
• Improve the ability of the MEK to collect more intelligence about Iran's nuclear program by encouraging potential intelligence sources inside Iran to provide information. The outcome would certainly inhibit Tehran's efforts to move ahead with its nuclear weapons program.
• Serve to support an expansion of the MEK's intelligence network inside Iran on a variety of important collection requirements, including information about Iran's terrorist network throughout the Middle East; its support for terrorist groups in Iraq; and a detailed understanding of the political situation in Iran, including leadership issues and popular sentiment. By creating doubt in the minds and commitment of lower level regime officials, the likelihood of defections to the camp of regime opponents should rise.
• Help energize the majority who are either undecided "fence-sitters" or heretofore have been uncommitted in the absence of an active Great Power policy in favor of regime change.
• Allowing the MEK to assume a role among leaders of pro-democracy groups in Iran shifts the financial and organizational responsibility for regime change from external entities to the Iranian people themselves; in addition, delisting empowers the MEK and other opposition groups to play their rightful role in organizing anti-government demonstrations and other political activity among women, students, merchants and other groups interested in regime change.
• Facilitate the ideas of the majority of Iranian clerics, who are not associated with the regime, and who are sympathetic to the MEK's secular Islamic ideas about government. These clerics would be encouraged to take a more positive attitude toward the United States.
• Provide an ability to raise funds that would also greatly assist the MEK to mount expanded satellite television and radio broadcasting into Iran and to develop an integrated publication and information program not only inside Iran, but abroad a well.
• Help bring secure democratic development to Iraq. An Iranian government, especially the IRGC, MOIS, and other security services, would be thrown on the defensive and forced to scale back their large assistance to terrorist and insurgent forces inside Iraq as well as those perpetrating terrorist attacks against Israel.
• Coerce other pro-Iranian groups, such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its armed militia wing, the Badr Corps to adopt a lower profile in southern Iraq, permitting the forces of federalism, integration, moderation and democracy to advance.
• Encourage Iraqi Shi'ites to behave more moderately if their principal sponsor in Tehran were threatened; by the same token, Iraqi Sunnis would be able to join the political process more easily and with enhanced prospects for meaningful participation once the Shi'ites adopt a less entitled attitude.
• Allow the MEK to operate as a legitimate opposition group in Iraq, thereby providing a cultural, political, and religious counterweight to the rising tide of Islamist extremism there, much of which is funded and sponsored by Tehran. This positive effect would aid the United States efforts to strengthen the position of moderate forces overall in Iraq, sending a signal to radical Iranian proxy groups that their efforts are not welcome.
• Signal regionally, and especially among the Gulf States, that small, weak neighboring countries do not have to put up with Tehran's bullying pressures and destabilization operations.
• Allow the MEK and its associated larger coalition of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) to open offices in the United States and organize the American-Iranian community in line with U.S. Government efforts to spread democracy and establish representative government in Iran.

Explore a decision about whether the Coalition should return the MEK's weapons, confiscated at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Once the MEK is no longer an officially-designated "terrorist organization," the United States might relieve the American military of its responsibility for the protection of MEK camps and personnel.


Coercive diplomacy, military action, and regime change for Iran are three options for the international community

Rather than sliding into military action as diplomacy fails, it is time to consider regime change for Iran.

Because the only possibility to carry out regime change is via the groups feared by the regime in Tehran, the United States should remove their terrorist designation.