Iran : Prospects for change

June 29 2018

On Friday, June 29, 2018, a colloquium organized by the Foundation for Middle Eastern Studies took place in Roissy en France, about the prospect for change in Iran. On this occasion, during four different panels, several speakers (researchers, diplomats, editorial writers and soldiers) shared their analysis as much about the current political and social situation as about the future of the Iranian regime and the nature of the future diplomatic and business relations with Iran.

The debates were followed by an attentive and prestigious audience consisting of researchers, analysts, journalists, diplomats and personalities such as Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.

Welcoming Remarks by the President of FEMO

François Colcombet, former Supreme Court Judge and Member of the French National Assembly

Policy on Iran


Moderator: Lincoln Bloomfield, Ambassador, Distinguished Fellow and Chairman Emeritus at the Stimson Center, former Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs

Giulio Terzi, former Foreign Minister of Italy and Ambassador to the UN

Linda Chavez, former Director of the White House public liaison

Adam Ereli, Ambassador, former spokesperson of the US Department of State and Ambassador to Bahrain

Robert Torricelli, Member of the US Senate from 1997 to 2003, served 14 years in the US House of Representatives

Paulo Casaca, Executive Director of the South Asia Democratic Forum, based in Brussels, former Member of European Parliament

Maria S. Ryan, President and CEO of Cottage Hospital, Woodsville, New Hampshire

IRGC and Meddling in the Region


Moderator: Walid Phares, Expert, global terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs

Riad Yassine, Ambassador of Yemen in Paris, former Foreign Minister of Yemen

Charles Wald, General (ret.), former Deputy Commander of US European Command

James Conway, General (ret.), former Commandant of the US Marine Corps

Frédéric Encel, writer and scholar of geopolitics specialized on the Middle East

Mohammed Al Sulami, Head of International Institute for Iranian Studies

Yves Thréard, Editorialist in Le Figaro

IRGC and Sanctions


Moderator: Lincoln Bloomfield, Ambassador, Distinguished Fellow and Chairman Emeritus at the Stimson Center

Robert Joseph, Ambassador, US Special Envoy for Nuclear Non proliferation and US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security until 2007

Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique

Michael Pregent, Middle East analyst, Hudson Institute

Jean Sylvestre Mongrenier, member of the Institut Thomas More and researcher at the Institut Français de Géopolitique

Eduard Litner, former Deputy Minister of Interior in Germany

Protests in Iran and the Role of the Opposition


Moderator: Mitchell Reiss, Ambassador, former Director of US State Department Policy Planning and Special Envoy to the Northern Ireland Peace Process

Michael Mukasey, former US Attorney General

Louis Freeh, former Director of the FBI

Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria

John Baird, former Foreign Minister of Canada

Struan Stevenson, Coordinator of Campaign for Iran Change (CIC), former President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq

Yves Bonnet, former Governor and Head of France's Internal Security

The day of discussions was opened by the President of FEMO, François Colcombet, who, after thanking all the speakers for their presence, wanted to remind the main issues for the future of Iran. According to him, the book published last year by the FEMO (Where is Iran heading?) was premonitory since it announced that the Vienna Agreement would not last. Today, now that History has confirmed this event, it is important to ask ourselves about the political and social future of the country. A large part of the problems in the Middle East depends on Iran's attitude. As Mr. Colcombet asserted, the issue of Iran is its regime, but this one is both the cause and the solution to the disorders which undergoes the region.

Policy on Iran

The first panel of discussion was about the policy on Iran. Thus, the speakers could discuss the West's policy towards the Islamic Republic. The debate was moderated by Lincoln Bloomfield, Ambassador, Distinguished Fellow and Chairman Emeritus at the Stimson Center, former Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. According to him, lots of sanctions were placed on Iran's regime because there was no real trust from the American leaders to their Iranian homonyms. When a new agreement was signed in 2015, there still was a big lack of trust because of the aggression of Iran. Today, President Trump has wished to leave the agreement and that is a problem for the European leaders who wish to continue the negotiations with the regime. A major issue in this conflict is the huge information deficit about the Iranian nuclear program.

How can the Americans and the Europeans unite, and then, how can they reach an agreement with Iran?

Giulio Terzi, former Foreign Minister of Italy and Ambassador to the UN, reminded that it is extremely important to establish a clear discussion between European Institutions and the American administration to find a point of agreement, especially for the economic relations. The recent acts of the Iranian regime, in the objective of provoking division among the Iranian population, are not acceptable. We, Europeans and Americans, cannot accept that the Iranian leaders try to erase the opposition. Much of the income of the country is used to finance terrorist groups. The European leaders must now show a clear line, especially regarding business. Indeed, many huge Italian companies ask why they should retire from Iran while it's their own government who convinced them to settle there a few years ago.

According to Robert Torricelli, Member of the US Senate from 1997 to 2003, it seems that Trump's policy on Iran corresponds to the general thought about Iran. Today, no one can think that there exists a future with Iran in the family of Nations. Although a regime change would be dangerous and would imply a lot of negative externalities (a lot of interests will get hurt), it cannot remain in place after the interventions in Syria of in Iraq. If Iran wants to stay in the family of Nations, it has to be able to deal with a normal economy, a normal government, normal exchanges, and a normal leadership. There should not be separate agreements with Europe. For that, and to support the Iranian people, there should be a regime change.

Linda Chavez, former Director of the Withe House public liaison, remarked that the question of the sanctions is very concerning: will the United States be able to establish the necessary economic sanctions while respecting the Iranian people, and will it be possible to set up an agreement with the Europeans while it seems to have broken with the Americans on the Iranian affair? Iran is today a destabilizing force in all the region and the change should be led by the Iranians themselves, in the respect of democracy, and not by a military force. What Mrs Chavez hopes is that the American administration discuss more and more with the Iranian Resistance, to agree on the democratic characteristics essential to the regime change that Mrs Rajavi wishes to bring to Iran. Now, the White House must talk more and more about what is currently happening in Iran and about the demonstrations ensuing from that, because, since the Second World War, the United Stated has always promoted peace and democracy in the world.

Maria S. Ryan, president and CEO of Cottage Hospital, Woodsville, New Hampshire, came back quickly on the History of Iran, fed by a cultural wealth and a certain progressivism, especially about the women's place in the society. That progress was abandoned by the regime which now oppresses its own people, forgetting totally humans rights. The last demonstrations in Tehran showed that the regime isn't popular anymore and that the revolt comes from the society itself, but this revolt has to be supported. Indeed, according to Ms Ryan, the US and EU must, beyond the economic sanctions and the exit of the nuclear agreement, support the opposition. The 10-point plan of the President of the Iranian Opposition, Mrs Rajavi, corresponds perfectly to the American democracy's demands: a universal and transparent suffrage, gender equality, free country.

Adam Ereli, Ambassador, former spokesperson of the US Department of State and Ambassador to Bahrain, underlined that the latest demonstrations against the regime were on an exceptional scale. According to him, they showed that the sanctions worked: on one hand the regime isn't supported anymore, and on the other hand that the distress of the Iranian people is undeniable. Those are two faces of the same coin. According to Mr. Ereli, it is necessary to increase the pressure on the regime and thus the sanctions. Those ones have to work quickly so that the Iranian people, who must be supported, do not suffer too long from poverty. Also, we should share as much as possible with the Iranian people and for that, it is necessary to use private networks to spread the message of the democratic Resistance.

Paulo Casaca, former Member of the European Parliament, asked which are the reasons why Europe wishes that much to continue to negotiate with Iran? The European leaders' attitude should be clear about their position towards Iran. It is crucial to conciliate the relations between the EU and the US. According to him, the 12 points presented by Mike Pompeo for a new agreement are excellent. Paulo Casaca denounced the deep corruption in the European political establishment which prevents a clear and straight policy towards Iran. About the Iranian intervention in Syria, Mr. Casaca asserts that most of the people that inform about the situation are linked to the Iranian regime. Of course, we are for freedom of information, but we shouldn't be naive. Iran is the major source of disinformation about Syria.

IRGC and Meddling in the Region

This panel was moderated by Walid Phares, expert of global terrorism and Middle Eastern affairs. According to him, this panel is very interesting because it has to do with the central nerve, the core of the Iranian regime's expansion in the region. His first contact with Iranian studies was as early as 1987 when he published a book in Arabic on the rise of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in which he projected that eventually because of the ideology, the regime will tend to expand in the region. It was in the DNA.

Riad Yassine, Ambassador of Yemen in Paris, talked about the Iranian presence in Yemen. The Iranian intervention in Yemen is today obvious in so far as Iran is giving weapons to the Houthis. By doing that, Iran is violating the embargo and United Nations Security Council resolution 2216 which forbids the delivery of weapons to the Houthis and their allies. However, they are using new technologies such as kamikaze drones or armed vehicles, obviously coming from Iran. He underlined that many Iranian experts and Hezbollah members are leading hostile acts there.

According to Charles Wald, General and former Deputy Commander of US European Command, the sanctions, based on lots of wishes and naivety, did not moderate the Iranian attitude. Indeed, it seems to be a failure since Tehran's regime still thinks that its security depends on the exportation of the revolution and on the militias who promote extremism. Today, the regime wants to reinforce its control on Iraq and to assure an enclave on the Hezbollah near the Mediterranean Sea. Iran must leave Syria and stop the permanent intervention. In front of that, the United States need to maintain a military presence in Syria and Iraq to prevent the reemergence of ISIS and provide security for a stable post-war political process, reconstruction, and to minimize Iranians' influence that could jeopardize these objectives.

James Conway, General and former Commandant of the US Marine Corps confirmed that it is Iran that today distributes the cards for most of the Middle Eastern Capitals: Beirut, Sanaa, Damascus... Syria hugely represents the most dangerous and consistent effort from the IRGC. The confrontation between Israel and Iran is major in the relations of the region and the result of the coming weeks is going to question these relations. According to Mr. Conway, it is important to encourage the most severe sanctions towards Iran and to encourage the Europeans to also establish sanctions to prevent the regime from exercising a constant pressure in the region.

Frederic Encel, Middle East specialist, pointed out that the proof of the Iranian imperialism is that we undergo it in a permanent way. The headlong rush of this regime expresses itself by its presence in Lebanon via Hezbollah, a group which does not respect the agreements of Ta'ef, but also by its presence in Sudan, in Yemen and in Syria, where the imperialism is extremely hard. However, those countries are not adjacent to Iran and do not represent a direct threat that could legitimate an Iranian intervention. Today, he asserted, that the Iranian people are fed up, even though the regime is afraid to lose public support.

Yves Thréard, Editorialist in Le Figaro, questioned the French attitude towards the American departure from the nuclear agreement. When the Iranian Revolution happened, the establishment of the IRGC was been taken seriously enough in front of the huge danger, and the pedagogy has not been done. The world did not understand what was going to happen, and the calls for a world revolution of Khomeini were not translated in the western press. Today, we find the same phenomena: what happens in Iran in the society is not translated in Europe, and especially the recent strike in the Tehran Bazaar. It is important that the French President rules on this question. Can France allow itself to turn to Iran and to consider Washington an opponent?

According to Mohammed Al Sulami, head of the International Institute for Iranian Studies, the Middle East, and especially Iranian people, are nowadays suffering from IRGC forces. To fight against the Iranian regime, democratic countries can confront it, by the way of international or regional organizations, to the international judicial system. Also, they can confront it economically by identifying clearly the international companies linked to the IRGC and to stop business with them. Finally, they can confront it militarily by attacking the terrorist organizations. The different countries have to cooperate, and mainly on the information about the regime.

IRGC and Sanctions

Mr. Lincoln Bloomfield opened the third panel of discussion about the sanctions imposed on the regime and about the IRGC's attitude.

How do we and what can the international community do to object to the behavior of this organization, asked Mr. Bloomfield.

According to Bruno Tertrais, Deputy Director of the FRS, we cannot deny the importance of sanctions in the coercion on the regime to negotiate, especially when we look at which point the economy got contracted and how the income from oil fell. The IRGC adapted to those sanctions, but, in some parts of the economy, they contributed to reinforce their influence. The hope is that the disagreement between the American administration and the Europeans won't prevent them from agreeing on other issues. According to Mr. Tertrais, it doesn't seem to be a new agreement, even if the French president Emmanuel Macron gave the instruction to work with the other European leaders. Macron announced that he plans to go to Tehran but he will not go because he saw the limits of what it is possible to do with the Iranian regime. The delay of this meeting is a good sign to limit the discrepancies between Washington and the European capitals. A regime change will surely come from the people itself because of the political and economic mismanagement of the country and the brutality of the Revolutionary Guards, and not only because of penalties.

According to Eduard Lintner, former Deputy Minister of Interior of Germany, all change that could be done in Iran is linked with the IRGC dismantling. People in Germany think the sanctions affect mostly the Iranian people. In reality, those sanctions reduce the income of the regime, so it won't be able to commit as much crimes as it did before. Lots of countries recommended to stop all diplomatic relations with Iran as long as the IRGC will take the leadin Iran. The German public support actively the Iranian Resistance. M. Lintner calls to inform correctly our public opinion about what is going on in Iran, and he thinks that our governments should think again about the sanctions to be established without impacting the whole population.

Michael Pregent, Middle East analyst, reiterated that the protesters in Iran ask for European and American support. There are political opponents in jail, some are assassinated, and our medias have to cover these daily facts because we sometimes get lost about importance between the various news. The sanctions established by Obama's administration had as a goal to bring Iran to the negotiations table but the regime took everything back during the Vienna Agreement. The protesters are blaming the regime for the fall of the economy and hold it responsible for the violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions. The nuclear agreement has failed mostly because of the Iranian support to terrorist groups.

Ambassador Robert Joseph, former US Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation, said that it is important to note that the sanctions are more effective with the support of people. It seems that today the Iranian population is understanding what are really the causes of the economic crisis and that the Iranians blame directly the Iranian regime. It is important to work with the opposition who asks a free and democratic Iran in the face of the perversion of the regime. It is clearly possible to attack the financial network of the IRGC. All the aspects of the regime are anti-democratic: it is brutal. It cannot become moderate and take the road of the reforms because it already knows that it is condemned. We have to support the opposition inside Iran. A regime change has to be done by and for the Iranian people and that asks a certain sacrifice.

Jean Sylvestre Mongrenier, researcher at the Institut Français de Géopolitique, thinks that the 2015 Agreement is a bad one since the regime preserved its nuclear weapons. The general spirit of the agreement was not respected seeing as democracy never reached Iran. The European method advanced by Paris, London and Berlin is to maintain an agreement resting on what already exists. It was especially a rhetoric because straightaway, the Iranian leaders expressed their refusal. According to Mr. Mongrenier, what is lacking in the American Strategy is a an overall view which goes away from the simple "every man for himself".

Protests in Iran and the Role of the Opposition

The fourth and last panel was opened by Mitchel Reiss, Ambassador, former head of Policy Planning at the US State Department and Special Envoy to the Northern Ireland Peace Process. According to him, the nuclear agreement did not prevent the regime from conquering the Middle East, and America tries to send a strong message through the removal of this agreement.

Michael Mukasey, former US Attorney General, asserted that we should be careful in the way that ideas are defended. All the money given to Iran stays in the pocket of those who oppress their population. The Iranian population wants the money to stay and to be used here, in Iran, and start to raise the voice. We have to give them a means of communication so that they maintain this voice.

According to Louis Freeh, former Director of the FBI, all the pressures against the regime has not discouraged its main goal that is the exportation of terrorism. The regime and the IRGC continue to export terrorism in Syria, in Yemen or in Iraq. The opposition doesn't represent only an angry youth but a real huge part of the population who show a lot of courage despite what they face. The storekeepers of the Bazaar, the backbone of the Iranian economy, also are very angry. So, we see how much the 2015 agreement is erroneous. It's time to move forward perseveringly. Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has the charisma and the necessary intelligence to defend her case in the United States.

According to former Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird: The only thing holding the people of Iran back are the mullahs and we must come together to stand with the people of Iran. Indeed, he argued that we should support the protesters to achieve a future free Iran. Iran has an enormous potential of a nation in the educational values and which possesses immense resources. Those who fight politically and economically, we have to help them.

According to Yves Bonnet, former French governor and head of the internal security service DST, it is the first time that the American democracy is changing its attitude towards the Iranian regime. Although the French laugh at Mr. Trump, he understands finally something in the foreign policy to be led in particular towards Iran by explaining that the policy of appeasement toward the regime led to bankruptcy. Mr. Bonnet wanted to come back on the political history of Iran, especially by reminding that several errors had been made such as the coup d'état of CIA against Prime Minister Mossadegh or the implementation of a political police of the Shah supported by the Americans and British, the machinations between the Iranian regime and the Western countries (the US and Europe included) to stigmatize the Iranian opposition.

Struan Stevenson, coordinator for Change in Iran, explained that people in Iran found back their voices during the demonstrations in 142 cities. Indeed, those people are ready to sacrifice their life to participate in those demonstrations. The regime answered in a usual way, and arrested lots of people among whom 14 people were tortured to death, who would have been killed by overdose in prison. People can just look at the way that the mullahs use the nation's money to finance the Shiite militias, the Houthi rebels, and Hezbollah. For Mr. Stevenson, Rouhani isn't moderate because he smiles to cameras. He is an evil monster like all the other mullahs.

"They fear Mrs. Rajavi, and the reason they fear Mrs. Rajavi is because they fear democracy, they fear justice, they fear freedom", he said.

According to the former Prime Minister of Algeria, Sid Ahmed Ghozali, there cannot be a moderate regime of mullahs, because it is based on the instrumentalization of the Muslim religion for political ends. Islam can be defined as the religion of the middle, which hates extremism. Those who kill innocent people cannot be moderate. The policy of appeasement by the West towards the mullahs threatens humanity. The Iranian tragedy lives in the passage of the dictatorship of the Shah to the dictatorship of the mullahs. Iran wants to dominate the Arab-Muslim world through destabilization. The recent demonstrations indicate a new stage: the Iranian decomposition. The people can only be vulnerable when they see their resources and wealth wasted by a regime which gives them nothing.

We are more and more numerous to explain the reality of the fight of the Iranian people and the stakes which it represents for these people but also for us all, members of the international community and lovers of peace, Ghozali added.