As European and Iranian officials actively work to reduce tensions, some diplomatic sources privately say that Tehran has demanded from France that it silence the regime’s opponents, most notably the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Speculation about just how hard Iran’s theocratic rulers have pressured their counterparts in Paris intensified when the French government floated the possibility that it would acquiesce to Iran’s wishes, as a goodwill gesture, following French President Emanuel Macron’s recent, and rare, 90-minute phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi on June 10.
Tensions between the two countries have grown on account of concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is intended to obtain nuclear weapons, as well as Iran’s provision of drones to Russia for use in the Ukraine war, and Tehran’s interference in the affairs of its neighbors through proxy groups and terrorism.
Although the activities of Tehran’s political opponents have not been part of public discussions between Iran and France, Raisi’s office said he has accused some European countries of setting policy toward Iran based in part on “false information” from ”terrorist, hostile groups.”
According to several sources familiar with Raisi’s remarks, the Iranian president explicitly referred to the opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, better known as the MEK, and its political coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has been headquartered north of Paris in Auvers-sur-Oise for the past four decades, and has a strong presence across much of Europe.
Some of the state-controlled papers in the Islamic Republic, including Vatan Emrouz (Country Today) on June 11, ran front-page stories featuring pictures of Macron with a phone in his hand, accompanied by the caption “Please accept my apology”, inferring that Macron had a conciliatory tone in his conversation with Raisi.
According to a veteran Iran affairs observer from Europe, who declined to be identified, Tehran’s request for measures against its opponents is not at all surprising, but instead fits the Iranian regime’s long-held policy of demanding that European countries exert pressure and restrictions on the National Council of Resistance of Iran in order to curry favor with Tehran.”
The source added that in too many cases, European governments have complied with these demands while receiving comparatively little in return. He pointed out that Tehran’s deputy judiciary chief for international affairs and human rights, Kazem Gharibabadi, boasted that between 2021 and 2022, the regime launched “a very good, joint campaign to put heavy pressure on countries that were hosting the MEK”. He added that “there hasn’t been a meeting between us and European delegations where we haven’t discussed the MEK.
Europe again shows a weak hand
Recently, a prominent Middle East analyst of Iranian origin accused Belgian authorities of Europeans of “being weak and willing to make big concessions” towards the regime after Assadollah Assadi, an Iranian diplomat who had been convicted on terrorism charges, was exchanged in a prisoner swap for Belgian aid worker Olivier Vandecasteele.
Assadi, who was Iran’s Third Counselor in Vienna, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a court in Antwerp in 2021 for planning a bomb attack against an international rally that was to be attended by tens of thousands of people, and hundreds of American and European dignitaries, that was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran in Paris in June 2018.
The regime has been shaken to its core
Iran experienced an unprecedented, nationwide anti-regime uprising in September which lasted for months and shook the regime to its core. Protests grew in scope and intensity, reaching all of Iran’s 31 provinces and nearly 300 cities, according to local reports and the organized Iranian resistance movement. Chants calling for the Iranian regime’s overthrow have been common at protests.
Tehran responded with a severe crackdown, killing several hundred protesters, and arresting tens of thousands. The government has also increased the pace of its executions, most recently executing three protesters.
According to an Iranian activist who has monitored the protest closely, “Tehran’s ayatollahs realize they are in a very tenuous situation and the status quo is very untenable. They have never been so vulnerable. The state media is full of warnings about a new round of inevitable uprising.”
Last month, more than 110 former world leaders from the US, UK, Europe, and Latin America signed a letter to President Joe Biden and his counterparts in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the EU calling on the West to adopt a tougher approach to Iran and support the Iranian anti-government protesters who are demanding regime change.
“We believe it is time to hold the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran to account for its crimes,” the letter states. “We urge your nations to stand with the Iranian people in their quest for change and to take decisive steps against the current regime. This includes blacklisting the [Islamic] Revolutionary Guard [Corps] and holding regime officials accountable for their crimes against humanity.”