Tom Cotton Allies Himself with the MEK

by Eli Clifton

Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) garnered two profiles this week, one in The Wall Street Journal and another in The New York Times, highlighting his efforts to disrupt normal Senate procedure in hopes of adding “poison pill” amendments to the Corker-Cardin bill that, if passed, would give Congress a say in any comprehensive agreement reached between the P5+1 and Iran.

But in a Senate meeting room Wednesday, Cotton, seated alongside Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), may have outdone himself by joining a panel hosted by the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC), a front group for the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK or MKO).

Cotton and Tillis were not alone. They were joined on the OIAC panel by former Ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg, Senior Belfer Center fellow (and United Against Nuclear Iran advisory board member) Olli Heinonen, former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert G. Joseph, and the former director of the National Counter Proliferation Center, Joseph R. DeTrani.

The MEK, which has worked hard – and spent a lot of money — to gain respectability in Washington since its armed units surrendered to U.S. forces in Iraq in 2003, is believed to have been responsible for the killing of six Americans in Iran between 1973 and 1976. Exiled following a power struggle in the early years of the Islamic Republic, the group fought alongside Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war. Following a lengthy lobbying and legal campaign that included the payment of substantial honoraria to prominent U.S. politicians and retired national-security officials, the MEK was removed from the State Department’s terrorism list in 2012.

The group, along with its numerous fronts in the U.S. and Europe, describes itself as Iran’s democratic government-in-exile but has little to no support within its homeland, according to independent Iran experts.

A 2005 report by Human Rights Watch detailed the group’s cult-like control over its members and a record of human rights violations designed to severely punish dissidents or would-be deserters.

But Cotton and the MEK share a common agenda when it comes to the nuclear negotiations with Iran. In a controversial video appearance from her Paris headquarters before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on counterterrorism last week, the group’s co-leader, Maryam Rajavi, recommended that the best way to defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was to pursue regime change in Iran. And, in January, Cotton, a protégé of Bill Kristol of the Emergency Committee for Israel, told an audience at the Heritage Foundation:

Certain voices call for congressional restraint urging Congress not to act now, lest Iran walk away from the negotiating table, undermining the fabled yet always absent moderates in Iran. But the end of these negotiations isn’t an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence — a feature, not a bug.

Neither Cotton nor the MEK, in other words, thinks there should be any negotiations with the Iranian government.

It appears that Cotton, who has quickly displaced Lindsey Graham as the Senate’s most hawkish member, has decided that it is necessary – perhaps even politically desirable – to make common cause with a group that has committed serious human rights abuses, allied itself for some two decades with Saddam Hussein, and carried out terrorist acts, including against U.S. citizens and servicemen – all in the interests of sabotaging an Iran nuclear agreement.

As Rajavi herself might say, “Quel enfant terrible.”

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. Might be a good idea for the senator to move the entire MEK terrorist camp from Baghdad to the state of Arkansas! So he can visit the camp often!

  2. What’s the difference between Israel & the MEK as far as human rights abuse are concerned? The MEK paid bribes to congress to get removed from the terrorist lists, but still demand its pound of flesh, while the Israelis engage in daily human rights abuse in their country, as do every other country in the world today, but are paying bribes to corrupt the U.S.congress through AIPAC and the other Jewish billionaires in the U.S. and do get their pound of flesh. Changing the dynamics of the M.E. by resolving the Iranian Nuclear issue, may marginalize Israel to such a degree, at least in the present mindset, that it no longer will be the power it was before the deal? Perhaps they might rebuild all the destruction that the wars have caused in the M.E., which will require 10’s of years to rebuild. How about making “PEACE” instead of “WAR”. A novel idea.

  3. The question of how this came about and how can it be changed in the Congress, or is it too late for that? It boggles the mind to read about the efforts to ambush any nuclear deal that was agreed upon, not just the U.S., but the other members of the group. Without resorting to paranoid histrionics as we seem to be viewing today, This congress if it gets its way, will leave the U.S. out in the cold, as was done with Cuba. Every other country will normalize relations with Iran, especially Russia & China, as will the Europeans. Another blunder by the brain-trust in the U.S.Congress.

  4. Many prominent Americans have supported MEK in the recent past, it’s not unusual at all. They include: Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former Sen. Robert Torricelli, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, former National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, Gen. Wesley Clark and others. Most of these characters have been resigned from government “service,” but not all. Congressman Bob Filner was an MEK supporter, and traveled at least once to Paris to address the MEK “convention.” (Filner later became Mayor of San Diego but had to resign because of…roaming hands.)

    Putting a hate on Iran is a popular US sport where everybody wins and nobody loses.

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