Exiled Iranian opposition group in Paris for talks

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled coalition of Iranian opposition groups, will hold a conference near Paris on Saturday, with international figures including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani expected to speak.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an exiled coalition of Iranian opposition groups, was due to meet in the northern Paris suburb of Villepinte on Saturday for the 10th annual Conference for Democratic Change in Iran.

Major international figures including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and outspoken Republican politician Newt Gingrich were scheduled to speak at the event.

The NCRI, which includes such groups as the People’s Mujahideen of Iran, appeared on the US list of designated terrorist organisations until last year.

Once the vanguard of resistance to Iran’s shah, the movement has been in exile for three decades. While the NCRI presents itself as a legitimate opposition group, critics say it’s an out-of-touch expatriate lobbying organisation with a lot of money but with little relevance to Iran’s problems. It has also come under fire for having proved useful to the West in the past and for telling politicians what they want to hear.

In the days leading up to Saturday’s conference, event organisers draped T-shirts printed with the faces of Maryam Rajavi, head of the NCRI since 1993, and her husband Massoud, founder of the People’s Mujahideen of Iran, over chairs set up in a vast hangar in Villepinte.

"Iranians from all over the world will be here to support change in Iran, the overthrow of the regime … The resistance wants a pluralistic, secular state," NCRI spokesperson Afchine Alavi told FRANCE 24.

From terror group to opposition movement

During the 1970s, the Mujahideen led the fight against Iran’s shah but swiftly turned against the religious rulers who replaced him. A bloody struggle ensued, followed by decades in exile.

In 1986, Massoud set up the National Liberation army in Iraq. Money and weapons flooded in to support then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s US-backed struggle against Iran. But as the Iraqi dictator fell afoul of Washington, and the West’s relations with Tehran thawed, the Mujahideen found itself on the US and Europe’s list of terrorist organisations.

Maryam spent years making friends in high places, offering the West information on Iran’s nuclear programme. By 2012 the organisation was back in from the cold.

“A new era has begun… for the resistance in Iran and abroad,” Maryam Rajavi said.

But while the NCRI may be able put on a good show outside its homeland, many of the group’s detractors feel that the Rajavis and their followers have ceased to matter to the situation in Iran.

By Alexander TURNBULL / Christopher MOORE (video)

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