Mike Pence ‘Honoured’ to Visit Exiled Iranian Dissidents in Albania
Former US Vice President visited around 3,000 exiled Iranians in Albania belonging to the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, MEK, at a camp on the outskirts of Tirana.
In a ceremony that lasted around two hours on Thursday, in high-security measures and with the attendance of Albanian politicians from all main political parties, former US Vice President Mike Pence talked to members of the MEK, voicing his support for the Iranian dissident group.
According to Fjori Sinoruka’s article published in BalkanInsight, he called the Iranian regime a “brutality” and criticized current US President Joe Biden for his softer policies toward Iran and urged the US not to renew a nuclear deal with Tehran.
He added that he had travelled 5,000 miles from his home in Indiana because he shared the same cause – “the liberation of the Iranian people from decades of tyranny”.
Pence criticized the Biden administration and called for the US “to immediately withdraw from all nuclear negotiations with Tehran, voice support for the organized opposition in Iran, and make it clear that America and our allies will never permit the regime in Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon”.
He considered MEK “an alternative” against the Iranian regime.
“One of the biggest lies the ruling regime has sold the world is that there’s no alternative to the status quo. But there is an alternative — a well-organized, fully prepared, perfectly qualified and popularly supported alternative,” he said.
Pence is not the only high-profile official from Donald Trump’s former administration to have visited and supported the MEK camp. Mike Pompeo US Secretary of State under Trump, visited the MEK camp in May this year.
Pence also visited a museum in the camp, in honour of people who have been killed in Iran since the Islamic regime came to power in 1979.
According to an article by the Guardian in 2018, the MEK is a diminished force these days.
“It would be hard to find a serious observer who believes the MEK has the capacity or support within Iran to overthrow the Islamic republic,” it said.
“But the US and UK politicians loudly supporting a tiny revolutionary group stranded in Albania are playing a simpler game: backing the MEK is the easiest way to irritate Tehran. And the MEK, in turn, is only one small part of a wider Trump administration strategy for the Middle East, which aims to isolate and economically strangle Iran.”
The MEK has been located in Albania since 2013, and resettled there from Iraq between 2013 and 2016 after coming under attack from pro-Iranian groups in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Founded in 1965 as a left-leaning opposition to the former Shah’s regime, it turned against the Islamic Republic following the 1979 Revolution.
The US listed it as a terrorist organization in 1997 but removed it from the black list in 2012 after it renounced violence.
Part of the group is currently building an extended compound in central Albania to host their comrades while others live around Tirana, or have emigrated.
Some former MEK members have opened an organization called “Association for the Support of Iranians Living in Albania”. They accuse MEK leaders for being too strict, and of not allowing members to get married or have children and of human rights abuses.
Some reports suggested that MEK members were also involved in criminal activities, but is unclear if they were active or former members.
Mostly elderly, and in some cases sick, members of the group appear to live a quiet life in Albania, despite which the Iranian government still considers them active enemies.
In 2018, the Iranian ambassador in Tirana and another Iranian diplomat were expelled over an alleged terrorist plot whose exact nature has not been made public.
In April this year, Bijan Pooladrag, an Iranian citizen arrested in Albania in October 2020, faced charges for collaborating with and serving persons involved in terrorism and eavesdropping, If found guilty, Pooladrag faces up to 10 years for the first charge and up to 15 for the second. He is suspected of working for the Iranian secret services and of eavesdropping on MEK.