Pence spoke at an Iranian extremist-backed conference

Politicio/October 29, 2021

By Alexander Ward and Quint Forgey With help from Andrew Desiderio and Daniel Lippman

As vice president, MIKE PENCE often talked tough about the Trump administration’s hard-line stance against terrorists, especially those that target Americans. Out of government, Pence has no problem speaking at an event sponsored by a formerly designated terrorist group that killed U.S. citizens.


On Thursday, Pence spoke at the “Free Iran Summit 2021” in Washington, D.C. organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political arm of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK. The former vice president used his address and Q&A moderated by his former chief of staff MARC SHORT to blast President JOE BIDEN over his foreign policy — especially toward Tehran.


"With our current administration's embrace of the [Iran nuclear deal], their hesitation to condemn rockets being fired at our cherished ally Israel, and the heart breaking and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, our adversaries may be sensing weakness in the current American administration," Pence said. “Weakness arouses evil.”


As for MEK, Pence asserted the group is "a well-organized, fully prepared, perfectly qualified and popularly supported alternative" to the current and brutal Iranian regime. The popularity point isn’t right: An August 2018 poll conducted by the Netherlands-based Group for Analyzing and Measuring Attitudes in Iran found the current MEK leader, MARYAM RAJAVI, would receive only 0.6 percent of the vote in a free and fair Iranian presidential election.


Pence wasn't the only big political name at the event: Former Sens. JOE LIEBERMAN (I-Conn.) and ROBERT TORRICELLI (D-N.J.) also spoke.


But some anti-regime advocates aren’t pleased Pence agreed to headline the event. “It is extremely unfortunate that the former vice president would lend his credibility to the MEK, an organization and leadership structure with a dark and ugly history,” CAMERON KHANSARINIA, policy director of the Iranian-American National Union for Democracy in Iran, told NatSec Daily. “Its Islamo-Marxist ideology leaves it with nearly zero support inside Iran and is fundamentally un-American.”


The MEK was only removed from the U.S. foreign terrorist organization list in 2012 — during the Obama administration — after a robust lobbying campaign by D.C.’s elite. However, in explaining the delisting, the State Department said it “does not overlook or forget the MEK’s past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992.”


The NCRI has attracted a high-profile bipartisan set of current and former officials to its cause, not least because it pays handsomely. ED RENDELL, the former Pennsylvania governor and Democratic National Committee chair, said in 2012 he’d been paid between $150,000 and $160,000 for his speeches in support of the group.


In 2017, months before becoming the national security adviser, JOHN BOLTON spoke at a “Free Iran Summit” in Paris, telling the crowd that “before 2019” everyone in the room would be celebrating the overthrow of the regime in Tehran. RUDY GIULIANI has also received money from the group to give speeches and lobby its case in Washington.


And MICHÈLE FLOURNOY, who at one point Biden considered as a possible secretary of defense, this year called for “internal regime change” in Iran during a MEK-backed virtual session — though she later claimed she had no knowledge of the group’s involvement.


Multiple people who pinged NatSec Daily about Pence’s participation said he’s likely the most high-profile person the MEK has ever gotten to speak for them. “They’re usually not former vice presidents who are serious contenders for POTUS,” one tipster texted us.


NCRI didn’t answer our question about how it enticed Pence to speak at the conference. The Heritage Foundation, where Pence is a distinguished fellow, didn’t respond to our query about the former veep’s participation. Short didn’t respond to a call and multiple texts requesting comment on his and Pence’s behalf.

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