Iranians’ Aspirations for Freedom and Democracy in the New Iranian Year

WASHINGTON DC – On Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in a virtual policy briefing on Iran, Democratic and Republican senators came together to discuss proper U.S. policy on Iran, in light of the Iranian regime’s malign activities in the region, human rights violations, continued nuclear defiance and its full support for the invasion of Ukraine.

In a strong bipartisan support, six senators from both parties addressed the event including Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Senate Foreign Relations Committee member, Ted Cruz (R-TX), Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Senate Arms Service Committee member & co-chair of the Senate Human Rights Caucus, Thom Tillis (R-NC), Select Committee on Intelligence member, John Cornyn (R-Texas), as well as Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs Committee ranking member, Patrick Toomey (R-PA).

President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, former senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), first national security advisor to President Obama, General James Jones as well as five Ukrainian officials, including three MPs, and two political figures close to President Zelenskyy also spoke at the event.

As the keynote address, Maryam Rajavi outlined how the ruling mullahs in Iran have openly supported the invasion of Ukraine and the killing of innocent civilians while the Iranian Resistance and the people of Iran have sided with the people of Ukraine and their Resistance. She said, “Today, the mullahs’ regime is at its weakest point. Iran’s economy is in a recession. Last year, there was one major anti-regime uprising every four months…The Resistance Units in Iran have combined the organized resistance with the social movement against the regime.” On Tehran’s drive to nuclear bomb, Mrs. Rajavi added, “The mullahs will never stop their bomb-making program, regardless of the result of the negotiations.” She called for the full implementation of the six UN Security Council Resolutions, dismantling of regime’s enrichment and nuclear facilities, and anytime, anywhere IAEA inspections of all suspected and declared nuclear related facilities in Iran. A principled approach she said, “is to recognize the Iranian people’s struggle to overthrow the clerical regime and the fight of Iran’s rebellious youth against the IRGC and the repressive forces.”

In his speech, Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) cautioned that, “While the world has turned its attention to Ukraine, we cannot lose sight of the threat of the Iranian regime. The Iranian regime who remains one of the few countries to vocally back Russia’s completely unprovoked and devastating invasion of Ukraine. As Russia bombs maternity hospitals and has caused more than 2 million people to flee their homes in a matter of weeks, Iran continues to stand by their Russian partner. Just as Iran has worked hand-in-glove with Russia in support of the Assad regime’s horrific campaign against the Syrian people for the past ten years, it continues to stand by Putin in the face of truly horrific actions.”

Russia, he noted, “is now leveraging its role in the talks in Vienna to again redirect attention away from the very real and immediate threat of Iran’s nuclear program. Along with your community, I have been outspoken about the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and have expressed serious concerns about the talks in Vienna to revive the deeply flawed JCPOA.”

Chairman Menendez added, “…about the ongoing horrific crimes the regime perpetrates against the Iranian people: arrests, detention, no judicial process. But of course, we should have expected nothing less from Iran’s new president, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner crony of the Supreme Leader who is already subject to U.S. huma rights sanctions. With a leader who was actively involved in the forcible disappearance and extrajudicial killing of thousands of Iranian dissidents in 1998, and the brutal crackdowns against peaceful protesters in both the Green Movement of 2009 and the more recent protests of 2019.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “Iran has made the region one of the most dangerous places on the globe. And the Biden administration sadly, has made it even more dangerous by looking the other way as the regime busted through sanctions, restored its oil exports to over one 1 million barrels a day for the first time in three years, and lifting terrorism sanctions on Iranian terrorists.”

Senator Cruz said the administration “wants nothing more than to create a new nuclear agreement with the Iranian regime that is even weaker than the catastrophic 2015 deal, even if it means surrendering to both the Ayatollah and Vladimir Putin.” Referencing the nationwide protests in Iran, Mr. Cruz said, the Iranian people want freedom and they’re suffering under the iron fist of the Ayatollah. He told the Iranian people, “I want you to know the good news is that truth is stronger than lies. And light is stronger than darkness. So, keep up the good fight for freedom and for democracy in Iran.”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) highlighted resistance against tyranny in Iran and said, “Since 2018, there have been eight major uprisings in Iran involving 200 cities and hundreds of thousands of people. These protests have continued into 2022 as the people of Iran demand a better way of life. In 2021 alone, Iranians took to the streets in nationwide strikes and demonstrations of farmers, teachers, nurses and physicians.” “The parallels of the decades-long struggle of the people of Iran and the recent attacks on the sovereign and democratic people of Ukraine are inescapable,” adding, “We are witnessing the strong resistance of the people of Ukraine against the unjust invasion of their country, a resistance that I know is well appreciated by the people of Iran.”

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) denounced Ebrahim Raisi, “who was handpicked by the Supreme Leader, is notorious for his key role in the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran, based on a religious decree issued by the Supreme Leader against the main Iranian opposition, the MEK.” He expressed optimism about, “the thousands of freedom-seeking Iranians in Ashraf-3 in Albania, where I visited them and their leader Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. Led by a strong and dedicated woman, they continue to be a source of inspiration for the protesters in Iran who seek to end the tyranny.”

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) commended Iranian Americans for their, “hard work and fighting human rights abuse and totalitarianism as well as your solidarity with the people of Ukraine.” America, he said, “will always stand with the people of Iran and we will do everything we can to support your desire to be a free people.

Ms. Kira Rudik, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament (MP) and the leader of the Voice party connecting directly and live from Kiev called on Western democracies to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine and reiterated, “There is only one way that you do with a tyrant, you fight him. You fight until the end. You fight him until the last person standing. Because this is the only way to protect what you love, to protect your freedom.” She saluted, “all the freedom fighters in Ukraine, all the freedom fighters in Iran, and all the freedom fighters in the world. Because with your support, with your protection, we will win and we will be living in a world where one country cannot take over another country just because of the political reasons of the crazy tyrant. And we will be living in a world where children will not have to die.”

Ms. Lisa Yasko, another Ukrainian MP also addressed the program live and said, “I would like to start by thanking, of course, Mrs. Rajavi for supporting. It’s very important when we Ukrainians feel the support and solidarity from different societies and nations who struggle and are in the resistance fighting for freedom and for values that are very important.” Now it is the moment she said, “to finally to start a new page in the history, where we won’t have the hypocrisy anymore, we won’t have the cynicism, evil aggression.” Without exaggerating, Ms. Yasko added, “I’m sure that now we are fighting for the whole world, for the whole new world, and it’s an opportunity for every one of us.”

Iuliia Mendel, the former spokesperson to President Zelenskyy passionately called for NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine and said, “Dictators don’t need to create irritants, they make them up when they see it fit regardless of argument and logic, and I think Iran knows this very well.” She highlighted the Iranian regime’s aggression against its people & the country’s neighbors and said, “I know that Iranian people know what the horrors of war are, and when the evil raises its head, the threat is even bigger. The latest news is that Iran’s foreign minister has gone to Russia in an effort to remove the latest roadblock to a revived nuclear agreement. This is the threat not to Ukraine, but to the whole world, right.”
Deputy Head of Ukraine’s Parliamentary Majority, Halyna Yanchenco in her speech from Ukraine, said the war on Ukraine, “is a war between tyranny and dictatorship and a free world. We are fighting with a country that hates not only Ukraine, we are fighting with politicians and an army that hates not only Ukraine but which hates its own citizens.”

Pavlo Kukhta, Ukraine’s former acting Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture told conference attendees, “Just to imagine the scale of the disaster, about three million refugees have fled Ukraine in the last three weeks. That’s one million people per week. Thousands of people are dead, including at least a hundred children.” He added, “This is the key battle for all of us, including the people of Iran. This is not a battle between two countries. This is a battle between the free world and the authoritarian world. and I believe the free world can and will win.”

Former Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) lamented the ongoing talks on Iran’s nuclear program and said, “if the information coming out of Vienna is correct about the apparent agreement, this will be much worse than the JCPOA for the United States, for our allies in the region, for the people of Iran, and for the rest of the world.” The sunsets clauses in the new agreement will remain the same as in the JCPOA he said, “which means that the agreement will begin to end in only a few years. A large number of sanctions that we in Congress imposed to end Iran’s nuclear weapons development program will be ended without any end of that development in sight. And without any justification or logic, apparently many sanctions that were imposed based on Iran’s support of terrorism, violations of its own peoples’ human rights, hostage-taking, and missile development, will also be removed.” The final outrage, Mr. Lieberman noted, “is that sanctions apparently will also be lifted from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This group has the blood of hundreds and perhaps thousands of Americans on its hands.”

On Ukraine, Mr. Lieberman said just as “the civilized world has responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine by supporting the brave resistance of the Ukrainian people against the Russian tyrants, and the extraordinary leadership of their president, Volodymyr Zelensky, we should also support the brave and growing resistance of the courageous Iranian people and the leader of that resistance, also an extraordinary leader, one that shares the principles and values and patriotism of President Zelensky, and of course I speak of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. The NCRI, Mrs. Rajavi and the MEK, share our values and our interests as Americans.”

When we think about the fight for freedom, said former Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, “the one that is happening in Ukraine, the brave Ukrainians who are fighting to defend their land, and we understand and we know that Mrs. Rajavi and the MEK, they know how important it is to fight for freedom. We stand with the people of Ukraine and we stand with the people of Iran who are fighting for their freedom.” She then added, “Women in Ukraine are picking up arms and defending their nation. they are leading the fight in Ukraine just like women in Iran are leading the resistance against the mullahs and the oppressive regime that are harming the people of Iran. Mrs. Rajavi has offered her support to the women of Ukraine and all people of Ukraine.”

In contrast, Senator Ayotte said, “Raisi was one of the first leaders to actually speak with Putin and offer his support for the invasion of Ukraine. Khamenei had the audacity to blame the United States of America and NATO for what is happening in Ukraine. The Iranian regime supports the invasion of a sovereign nation because they do not believe in freedom.”

She added: “This is especially true for women. Women in Iran are treated like second-class citizens. They do not have the same rights as men, and we know that that is wrong. And as we celebrate Women’s History Month, it is important to recognize that the movement for freedom in Iran is being led by a strong, capable woman, Madame Rajavi. Mrs. Rajavi, the President-Elect of the NCRI, offers a strong alternative to the oppression we now see in Iran.”

General James L. Jones (Ret), the former U.S. National Security Advisor and Supreme Allied Commander said in his remarks, “What’s going on in Ukraine is reminiscent of the struggle that the NCRI, and the MEK, have carried on valiantly in and outside of Iran. We have not seen anything like what’s going on in Ukraine since World War II. But the resistance movement in Iran has. We’re all familiar with the sacrifice that had to be made and the number of lives that have been lost and forever altered as a result of their struggle for freedom. So, in a way, the two struggles are about freedom and democracy, things that we stand for here in the United States, and the democracies all over the world should join hands and support.” General Jones then pointed to the weakness in the regime in Tehran and the growing resistance movement within Iran and said, “On the 27th of January, 27 nationally-owned television channels in Iran were disrupted for 12 seconds and things like pictures of Mrs. Rajavi were shown on the television before they could figure out how to block that. There was a hack yesterday in Iran in the Ministry of Censorship website. There was an audio hack in the big shopping centers that lasted for one hour with messages of freedom and encouragement from NCRI. Those are manifestations of tremendous public outcry for change in Iran.”

The event was moderated by Ms. Hannane Amanpour and Mr. Mehdi Ghaemi, members of the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC).

During the briefing which marked the celebration of Nowruz year of 1401, a violin piece was played by one of the best Iranian-American musicians, Paran Amiri Nazai. An award-winning violinist, Paran received her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Organization of Iranian American Communities and leaders from 40 chapters across the U.S. renewed their commitment to democracy and freedom with the bipartisan message of U.S. senate and distinguished speakers from America and Ukraine.