BERLIN, March 23 (UPI) — An Iranian opposition leader exiled in Europe urged the West to step up the pressure on Tehran but warned against a military strike, arguing that change in Iran can come from within only.
Maryam Rajavi, head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella opposition group with headquarters in Paris, said the regime in Tehran was the biggest threat to global peace.
“(U.S.) President (Barack) Obama and leaders in Europe should make their judgments based on this past year’s experience and no longer call for negotiations with this regime,” Rajavi told United Press International in an interview Tuesday before she addressed a group of German parliamentarians in Berlin. “For years, the United States and Europe have tried to go this way without getting anything in return. The appeasement course has only given the Mullah regime time to get closer to the nuclear bomb.”
The West and Iran are embroiled in a years-long conflict over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. While world powers fear Iran is on the way to a nuclear weapon, Tehran says the program is used for civilian energy purposes only.
The regime raised further suspicion, however, when it announced this year that it planned to enrich uranium to 20 percent, seen as a technological milestone in the path toward a nuclear weapon.
In recent weeks, the United States, Britain, France and Germany have called for tougher economic sanctions against Iran, a course even Russia is now ready to support.
In her speech to the German parliamentarians, Rajavi lauded this new development and urged the West to pass sanctions on the energy and financial sector.
“We received credible information from inside the regime that even minimal sanctions against the banking sector will seriously handicap the regime,” she said.
She added that the regime has been seriously weakened by the protests and by “tensions inside the clerical regime that have reached the highest circles.”
Rajavi warned against a military strike, however, saying the West should instead support and legitimize the Iranian opposition.
Her NCRI is controversial because it includes the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, classified as a terror organization by Iran and the United States for its armed struggle against the regime in the 1980s and 1990s.
However, the European Union removed the group from its terrorist list in January 2009 after Britain had done so in 2008 and its members have abstained from armed opposition. Around 3,400 of them live in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where they were disarmed by U.S. troops in 2003.
The NCRI has in the past unveiled allegedly secret acts by the Iranian regime, relying on sources inside the country. Some of those allegations have proven true, while others haven’t.
The group scored a major success when it disclosed the existence of two secret nuclear facilities in Iran — the Natanz enrichment plant and a reactor in Arak.
The NCRI sees itself as the leading opposition group outside Iran and has been very vocal in the aftermath of the controversial Iranian presidential elections last June.
Critics say the elections, which saw President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning a second term, were rigged. Tehran cracked down violently on the hundreds of thousands of protesters who took the streets all over the country in the weeks after the vote. Thousands of regime opponents were arrested. The West harshly criticized Iran for the violence. Rajavi said the opposition remains unwavering despite reports that is has been hit hard by government-launched violence.
“The suppression of the regime against the uprising was very harsh but it continues and one cannot say it was weakened,” she told UPI.