Thirty members of the Iranian opposition, including human rights activists and former political prisoners, have penned an open letter to President-elect Donald Trump in which they’ve expressed their interest in meeting with America’s soon-to-be 45th president.
The letter to Donald Trump is in part a response to his vows to renegotiate the Iranian nuclear deal and help usher in regime change — specifically a liberal democratic government.
“During the presidential campaign, we and millions of Iranians followed your forthright objection to the nuclear agreement reached between the Obama administration and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the letter notes. “We sincerely hope that with your election, the new administration and the United States Congress will have the opportunity for the first time to review the regional and international outcomes of that disastrous agreement without any reservations, as was promised to the voters.”
Among the requests in the letter are that the Trump administration, “in collaboration with the Congress, should expand the existing sanctions and impose new ones on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Supreme Leader’s financial empire and direct the U.S. Treasury to strongly enforce them.” It also suggests that Trump “form an international coalition to pressure the Islamic Republic of Iran and force the regime to cease its pursuit of long-range ballistic missile.” The letter points out, “[u]nfortunately, Iranians have been among the main victims of the detrimental policies adopted by President Obama in the Middle East.”
Signatories of the letter include 10 former political prisoners and four journalists. Perhaps best known is Ahmad Batebi, a former prisoner who was tortured in Iran and who made international headlines in a famous picture showing him holding up a blood-drenched shirt. The image appeared on the cover of The Economist.
Last year, Marjan Keypour-Greenblatt, a co-founder of the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities (ARAM), wrote that “[u]nlike many outspoken Iranians living in exile, it is difficult to classify Batebi in the oversimplified taxonomy of ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ deal category.” She notes that while “[h]e is vehemently against the regime that restricts freedom of expression and promotes inequality… he also strongly opposes sanctions that burden the working class and limit social mobility for the poor. Nonetheless, he is skeptical that sanctions relief will benefit the people who desperately need these financial resources.”
Amir Fakhravar, a former political prisoner in Iran and Senate Chairman of the National Iranian Congress said in a statement issued exclusively to Breitbart News: “We urge the Trump administration to reverse the Obama policy of subsidizing the activities of the Khamenei regime – the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. We believe that stringent Iran oil and central bank sanctions legislation should again be passed by Congress and signed by President Trump as soon as possible. The National Iranian Congress pursued a relentless and successful campaign from 2006 to 2012 urging the U.S. Congress to implement these sanctions in the first place. Sanctions would be lifted only when free and fair democratic elections are held in Tehran.”
Should Trump meet with these individuals, and other Iranian activists who are for regime change, his willingness to do so would provide a stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s interactions with the pro-Iran regime lobbyist group NIAC (the National Iranian American Council), led by Trita Parsi. Even fellow Democrats have criticized the Obama administration’s Iran policy. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the highest ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has stated that the Obama administration’s rhetoric on Iran sounded “like talking points that come straight out of Tehran.”
While a sign that the Iranian dissident community is seeking closer ties to the incoming Trump administration, Friday’s letter has also shed light on divisions within the ranks of Iranian dissidents. The opposition movement’s ranks include Monarchists, Liberals, and many in between.
Reza Parchizadeh, a political theorist, analyst, and Iranian dissident, told Breitbart News exclusively that while he agreed the letter’s intent was good, he believed it could have been executed more efficiently and should have included a larger number of Iranian dissidents.
I believe the subject of the letter was apt. Indeed I, myself, had taken a similar stance around a month ago. We Iranian liberal democrats trace our intellectual roots to Western classical liberalism, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. As such, it is only natural for us to want to have a constructive dialogue with our brothers and sisters in the West. However, the one thing I did not approve of about this letter was that it had not been sent to a greater number of Iranian dissidents to be signed. That’s why the Iranian regime is now trying to diminish the position stated in the letter by producing state-engineered letters with many signatures that go against the original letter sent to President-elect Trump.
Although the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) did not sign the letter, they are so far the most well-organized Iranian opposition group to the Iranian regime (collectively referred to as Jomhouri-e-Islami) and have garnered support from advisors to Trump such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and John Bolton. Tehran has classified NCRI, also known as MEK, as terrorists. Some Iranian ex-pats find issue with the group.
The MEK renounced violence in 2001. In 2012, the State Department, under Hillary Clinton, delisted them as a terrorist organization. They were initially placed on the list under President Bill Clinton in 1997, a move that some suggested was an attempt to garner favor with the Iranian regime. MEK was credited with revealing Iran’s nuclear program in 2002.
Slater Bakhtavar, another Iranian dissident, an attorney, and author of Iran: The Green Movement, took to Facebook to vent his frustrations: “The Iranian dissidents who wrote President-elect Trump do not represent us as a group and should not be given the chance to meet with our President-elect without us being present.”
NOTE: This piece has been updated to include a quote from Iranian dissident and author, Amir-Abbas Fakhravar.
Follow Adelle Nazarian on Twitter and Periscope @AdelleNaz.
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