Iran Lashes Mike Pence After Hawkish MEK Speech: 'Trumpian Criminals'

Iran hit back at Mike Pence after the former vice president used his address at last month's Free Iran summit to condemn the government in Tehran and accuse President Joe Biden of "weakness" over his support for the stalled nuclear deal.

The Iranian mission to the United Nations in Geneva told Newsweek that Pence's remarks—in which he predicted the end of the government in Tehran—were "wishful thinking."

The Washington, D.C. event was organized by the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the guerrilla rebel group the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK). Both are led by Maryam Rajavi and have long enjoyed backing from Iran hawks in the U.S., particularly within the GOP.

Iran rejects the NCRI/MEK as a terrorist organization and cult with insignificant support among the Iranian people. NCRI and MEK leaders claim a network of tens of thousands of supporters inside Iran, which they say gathers intelligence on and stokes opposition to the government in Tehran.

Bahram Heidari, counsellor of the Iranian mission in Geneva, condemned Pence for appearing at the Free Iran event in an email sent to Newsweek. "Birds of a feather flock together to [the] Iranian nation," Heidari said.

"Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Mark Dobowitz, John Bolton and other Trumpian criminals [deserve] to enjoy the infamy of a terrorist cult's company and be on their paycheck," he wrote, referring to other Iran hawks who have previously spoken at or attended NCRI/MEK events.

"I suggest you investigate how much Mike Pence has received for each word of praise he showered on the Monafeghin terrorist cult," Heidari said, using another name for the MEK.

Newsweek has contacted Pence's team to request comment on his relationship with the NCRI/MEK and to ask whether he was paid for last month's address.

"Mike Pence et al can continue to amuse themselves with all sorts of wishful thinking," Heidari said.

"The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. The Iranian nation is fully determined to keep going on its proud path of independence and dignity irrespective of the terrorists' malice and malignancy and those of their prime supporters.

"While we appreciate any awareness raising campaign about the MKO terror cult, we caution against any (intended or unintended) moves to launder them.

"That would be both unjust and immoral. It would be a tremendous injustice to many thousands innocent people who fell victim to horrendous acts of terrorism perpetrated by the members of this terrorist cult, including the atrocities committed during their long time companionship with Saddam Hussein regime."

The MEK—formed in 1965 as a far-left organization dedicated to toppling Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi—found itself on the wrong side of the revolution. It was persecuted by the new Islamic Republic, driven underground with tens of thousands of members believed executed in post-revolution purges.

Current Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi oversaw many of the executions and is known among critics as "The Butcher."

The NCRI and MEK are currently agitating for international investigations into Raisi's role in political purges.

The group was forced to flee the country, first to Iraq, then to France, and finally to Albania.

Some human rights groups have reported a range of abuses at the MEK compound in Albania, allegations MEK and NCRI leaders reject as smear campaigns backed by Tehran.

The NCRI and MEK say they are committed to a secular democratic system. Rajavi's 10 point plan calls for a non-nuclear Iran run under a "pluralist system" with separation of government and religion, plus full freedom of expression and human rights, and the end of Sharia law.

The MEK fought a long guerrilla war in Iran. Among their victims were then-President Mohammad Ali Rajai and Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar, both killed in a 1981 bombing in Tehran.

The group also took part in the Iran-Iraq war, launching unsuccessful operations into Iran with Iraqi backing in 1988. Tehran says this operation proves the MEK are traitors unconcerned with the well-being of the Iranian people. The MEK says the operation was designed to topple Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rather than help Hussein win the war.

The MEK was listed as a terrorist organization in the European Union until 2009 and in the U.S. until 2012.

The group says it no longer engages in violence. Its critics inside Iran accuse the MEK of coordinating with Israel and the U.S. in continued covert operations.

At last month's event, Pence described the MEK as "a well-organized, fully prepared, perfectly qualified and popularly supported alternative" to the current government in Iran. Rajavi, he said, is "an inspiration to the world."

The address was predictably hawkish, in line with the expected stance of all leading GOP 2024 presidential candidates.

Pence was part of former President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" strategy on Iran, throttling the nation's economy with punishing sanctions and trying to isolate the country on the world stage.

Pence condemned Biden's ongoing efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew in 2018 promising a better agreement that never materialized.

"Peace follows strength," Pence told the attendees. "With our current administration's embrace of the JCPOA, their hesitation to condemn rockets being fired at our cherished ally Israel, and the heartbreaking and disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, our adversaries may be sensing weakness in the current American administration."

Pence added: "They may be emboldened to test our resolve...Weakness arouses evil."

Mike Pence at event in Budapest Hungary
Former Vice President Mike Pence gives a speech on the stage of the Varkert Bazar cultural centre in Budapest, Hungary on September 23, 2021. ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP via Getty Images