Flournoy – who served as Barack Obama’s undersecretary of defense for policy and now heads up a major consulting firm with close ties to the Biden administration – appeared virtually at the ‘Free Iran World Summit 2021’ event on Sunday, where she openly endorsed “internal regime change” in the Islamic Republic.
“This regime should not expect an easy ride from this administration or from the US Congress,” she said during her talk, adding that “the American commitment to Iran’s people in their quest to be free remains unfaltering.”
However, approached about her speech by reporters with the Institute for Responsible Statecraft and the Daily Beast, Flournoy’s consulting firm WestExec Advisors attempted to distance her from the event’s sponsor, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The council serves as the diplomatic branch of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian dissident group previously on the US terrorism blacklist due to alleged involvement in a string of bombings and assassinations between 1979 and 2000.
“When she agreed to the engagement, Ms. Flournoy was unaware of the affiliation. She would not have participated had she known of it, and she refused payment for the engagement once she learned of it,” the statement said. “She has no affiliation with the MEK and will never appear at their conference again.”
While Flournoy’s firm claimed ignorance about the event’s sponsor, she spoke of the “important work” done by “diaspora groups like yours” during her talk, presumably referring to the National Council, whose ties to the MEK are common knowledge in Beltway foreign policy circles.
The MEK was only removed from the US terrorism list in 2012, under pressure from political figures ranging from former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani – who also attended last weekend’s event – to ex-Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean. The group was also on the European Union’s terrorism watchlist, but was removed in 2009.
Though the ex-Obama official is no longer in government, Flournoy’s consulting firm – as well as her hawkish liberal think tank, CNAS – remains a powerful force in DC politics. Co-founded alongside current Secretary of State Tony Blinken, WestExec was described by Politico as a “cabinet in waiting” for Biden after his 2020 election win. Flournoy was ultimately passed up for the defense secretary role, though Blinken and a former principal at the firm, Avril Haines, were tapped for top spots in the administration.
In addition to Flournoy – whose speech gave full-throated endorsement to the US sanctions regime on Iran, even while calling for a return to the 2015 nuclear deal – a number of other American political luminaries attended the event. Fellow Democrats made appearances, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Menendez, Senator Cory Booker, as well as Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.
GOP Senators Roy Blunt and Ted Cruz were given speaking slots in addition to former Trump officials, among them ex-national security advisor John Bolton and secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
“May your mission be blessed and protected, may the Iranian people be blessed,” Pompeo told the audience, urging the National Council of Resistance to “keep up the fight.”
Though Pompeo reportedly ordered staffers to limit their contacts with members of the MEK while he was still in office, saying they could hurt diplomatic efforts with Iran, he attended an anti-Iran event with close links to the MEK just one year prior and has frequently appeared in the group’s propaganda materials. Bolton, too, has previous ties to the group, having accepted at least one paid speaking gig from an MEK-affiliated organization and appeared at several other events hosted by the group to lobby for regime change.
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