OpinionIran in the World PressTake inside track in trying to keep Iran in...

Take inside track in trying to keep Iran in check

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Detroit Free Press: As America anticipates the reports next month from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the current military and political status of our efforts in Iraq, more and more attention is being paid to the destabilizing and deadly role being played by Iran in this conflict. And rightfully so. Detroit Free Press

BY PAUL WELDAY

As America anticipates the reports next month from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the current military and political status of our efforts in Iraq, more and more attention is being paid to the destabilizing and deadly role being played by Iran in this conflict. And rightfully so.

Having worked closely for the past year with the Iran Policy Committee, a Washington-based think tank focused on U.S.-Iranian policy, my colleagues and I have watched a steady, provocative escalation of Iran’s arming, training and financing of insurgents in Iraq. This involvement has cost the lives of American military men and women, and Iran shows no sign of backing down.

The Bush administration has stepped up its warnings to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the extreme fundamentalist Islamic clerics who control him. This strong response comes none too soon. In addition to its deadly role in Iraq, the Tehran regime is a prime sponsor of Hamas, Hizballah and Al Qaeda terrorist activity worldwide. Most significantly, Iran is also actively pursing a policy of uranium enrichment to develop a nuclear weapon in 1-3 years.

But what options are available to U.S. policymakers? Until recently, it was thought our only two choices were economic sanctions and diplomacy, or military intervention. Both options have their place, but taken independently neither is likely to accomplish the goal of getting Iran out of Iraq. Diplomacy with Iran, or the “Appeasement Policy” as some call it, has failed miserably. Iran is more bellicose today than ever before, even after years of sanctions. Military strikes may succeed in taking out nuclear facilities, but the long-term consequences of military engagement in Iran can hardly be predicted with certainty.

So the United States and its Western allies must consider utilizing a “Third Option” against the Iranian government: Empower the Iranian people by unleashing strong, vibrant, moderate opposition groups to bring about change from within the country. Only by forcing the mullah regime to look over its shoulder and face the very real forces of change that exist both inside and outside of Iran will we slow or stop the reckless intervention being waged by that government worldwide. Only domestic pressure will force the Iranian government to tend to its own backyard.

One such opposition group that could play an important role in isolating the Iranian regime and bringing together sectarian groups to forge a political consensus is the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. The MEK and its umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, are the principal opposition groups facing the mullah regime in Tehran and are poised to bring real pressure to bear against the government.

But there is a significant problem to the incorporation of the “Third Option.” The MEK and the NCRI are currently listed by the U.S. State Department as foreign terrorist organizations. There is considerable history associated with the MEK that dates back to the overthrow of the shah in the late 1970s. Some of it is not ideal, but by the standard set by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, there is no way to legitimately label the MEK as terrorists.

Many believe that the MEK was designated as a terrorist organization during the Clinton administration simply to gain favor with Tehran as a precursor to the establishment of a U.S.-Iranian dialogue.

In 2003, the New York Times reported that the 1997 proscription of the MEK was done as “a goodwill gesture toward Iran’s then newly elected reform-minded president, Mohammad Khatami.” The policy continued through the Bush administration in the hopes of containing the Iranians prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. In short, the MEK has been used as a bargaining chip in a high-stakes poker game that has come up short for the United States.

In actuality, the MEK can play a constructive role in Iraq by serving as a trusted mediator between the U.S. military, Sunnis, Kurds and moderate Shiites. Bitterly hated by the mullah regime in Tehran, the MEK can be a catalyst for the organization of political opposition within Iran. And, while not perfect, the MEK can provide a toehold for the West in the struggle to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

Continuing to follow an ineffective policy toward Iran will not bring about change in the world’s most dangerous region. Deploying a “Third Option” is a strategy the United States must seriously consider if we expect to see a positive conclusion to the war in Iraq — and the titanic struggle against the growing threat of radical Islamic extremism.

PAUL WELDAY, 48, of Farmington Hills, is president of Strategic Federal Affairs and a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Bloomfield Hills, and Oakland County Republican chairman. Contact him on U.S.-Iran policy issues at [email protected]

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