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A New Game Plan for Iran

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Whoever wins the November election, you can bet that Iran will be high on the priorities list of the next President, not least because time is running out and U.S. options are becoming increasingly limited.

The Obama administration's policy in dealing with Iran's nuclear proliferation program has been dismal to say the least. Sadly, the key agenda objective has been to contain Iran through negotiations whilst levying limited sanctions. Clearly sanctions have been of some use but the policy of appeasements through negotiations has failed miserably. No meaningful resolution has emerged out of the past thirty one rounds of discussions, and any new negotiation seems doomed to further failure leaving just two possible outcomes. Either Iran gets its bomb or a limited strike is launched, most likely by the Israelis, and both will increase tensions massively in this trouble torn region.

If President Obama or for that matter, a Romney administration is serious about avoiding either of those scenarios, they should infuse a new element into the equation - the Iranian people themselves.

All politics are local, even for the blood drenched Iranian regime. Consequently the U.S. should reach out to the millions of disillusioned Iranian people and in particular to its restive youth. The notion of relying upon negotiated settlement simply plays into the Mullahs' hands and buys them time to further their nuclear ambition.

But how might this be achieved when the very self same U.S. legally restricts the main Iranian opposition movement from playing a more active role? The People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran, (MEK), has been the leading opponent of the Mullahs' regime in Tehran since the installation of theocratic control in 1979. Yet much of its energy has, of necessity, been engaged in a long legal and political battle to be freed from the notorious designation as a terror group which was placed upon them many years ago by the State Department in another vain attempt to appease the Mullahs. Sadly the UK and the EU followed suit although fortunately they both saw sense and de-listed the organisation in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

However the US proscription remains with the consequence that instead of focusing their resources on wresting their country from the clutches of the Mullahs, the MEK has been forced to spend its time and resources on court room wrangles and political lobbying in Washington and you can imagine how that has played into the hands of the Mullahs' regime.

Sadly the US State Department has also been playing a less than honest role in its dealings with MEK supporters in Iraq. Thanks to its vast network of sympathizers inside Iran, the MEK has been instrumental in exposing the nuclear weapons ambitions of the Iranian regime from the beginning and has also provided valuable intelligence on clandestine Iranian activities inside Iraq. As a result the intelligence provided by the MEK has saved the lives of many US and allied personnel.

For the past twenty five years or so up to 4,000 members of the MEK have been living in Camp Ashraf located some forty kilometers outside Baghdad. Submitting to pressure from Iran and the Iraqi Prime Minister Maleki, and despite prior US agreements with MEK members which recognized them as political refugees and granted them "protected persons status" under the 4th Geneva Convention, the US gave in to the demands from both Iran and Maleki to force a relocation of the members of the MEK from their camp to a temporary relocation before final relocation to third countries outside Iraq. However, the temporary camp to which 2000 member of the MEK were relocated resembles a prison camp, or as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called it, an "open air detention center."

And the heart of the problem rests on the MEK being included on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations during President Clinton's administration. This, as was later acknowledged by scores of U.S. officials, was meant as a "goodwill gesture" to the Iranian regime. Since then this policy has persisted and the MEK has been kept in the list despite US court rulings in favour of their removal due to the lack of any evidence and in spite of strong congressional bi-partisan support for the group's removal.

The State Department had indicated that the relocation of thousands of its members from Ashraf, a modern town they built in Iraq to the now infamous Camp Liberty would be a key factor in delisting of the MEK.

On 17 August Mrs. Maryam Rajavi , President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran declared that as a gesture of goodwill, another 400 residents of Ashraf will go to Camp Liberty. In other words the group is doing its level best to help the US Administration in a difficult situation.

Mrs. Rajavi added that the residents anticipated and expected that this move would be followed by a public statement from the United States Government which recognizes the cooperation of the Ashraf residents and reiterates continued U.S. commitment to delisting as outlined by Secretary Clinton on February 29, 2012. Such a statement would also comply with the decision of US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit which requires the Secretary of State to make a determination regarding the designation of the MEK by October 1st. Mrs Rajavi also called upon the US to resolve the remaining humanitarian issues at Liberty which materially affect the daily lives of the residents, including sustainable mechanisms to provide water and electricity.

In other words it is now time for the US State Department to realign the direction of its policies towards Iran. The State Department should de-list the MEK and recognise the rights of MEK members in Iraq. Only then will the Mullahs' regime in Tehran understand that the US is serious in its demands and must get the message that the game has changed. Not to do so runs a serious risk of raising the stakes in the region to an unacceptable level which could demand a price of our children and grandchildren they must not be forced to pay.