Republican Congressman Tom McClintock speaks to VOA Persian at an Organization of Iranian American Communities event at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, Dec. 11, 2018.
Republican Congressman Tom McClintock speaks to VOA Persian at an Organization of Iranian American Communities event at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, Dec. 11, 2018.

A U.S. Republican lawmaker sponsoring a bill to support a democratic and secular Iran says Washington should provide Iranians with material support to help them “overcome” their Islamist rulers.

U.S. Representative Tom McClintock spoke to VOA Persian late Tuesday at a Christmas celebration held by the Organization of Iranian American Communities (OIAC) at Washington’s Rayburn House Office Building.

“I believe it is increasingly important that we provide (Iranians) with material support that they need to overcome the tyranny in Tehran,” McClintock said, without specifying what form that support should take. “In previous years, we provided cash on cargo pallets to the mullahs, cash used to oppress the Iranian people. Now we owe it to the Iranian people to provide the resistance with the kind of material support that we once gave the mullahs.”

McClintock was referring to the Obama administration’s Jan. 17, 2016, air cargo delivery of cash worth $400 million to Tehran as part of a settlement of a decades-old arbitration claim between the U.S. and Iran. The transfer happened on the same day that Iran agreed to release four American prisoners, leading the Democratic president’s Republican critics to denounce the cash delivery as a ransom payment.

House resolution

McClintock is the sponsor of a House resolution that expresses support for the Iranian people’s “desire for a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear Republic of Iran.” The bill also condemns what it calls Iranian state-sponsored terrorism. It was referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July and has gained 103 co-sponsors since then.

Iran sees itself as a victim, rather than a perpetrator, of terrorism. Tehran also denies U.S. accusations that it seeks to divert what it calls a peaceful nuclear program to making weapons.

OIAC, a supporter of McClintock’s bill, is a nonprofit group that seeks to mobilize Iranian-Americans to support what it calls the Iranian people’s “struggle for democratic change” and a “non-nuclear government.” It is allied to exiled Iranian dissident movement Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which leads the France-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and advocates the overthrow of “religious dictatorship” in Iran. Islamist clerics have led the nation since its 1979 Islamic Revolution.

A bipartisan group of nine House members attended and spoke at the OIAC event, four Republicans and five Democrats. The speakers included Republican lawmakers McClintock, Dana Rohrabacher, Mike Coffman and Ted Poe, and Democratic lawmakers Eliot Engel, Brad Sherman, Sheila Jackson Lee, Judy Chu and Steve Cohen.

Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel talks to VOA Pe
Democratic Congressman Eliot Engel talks to VOA Persian at a Rayburn House Office Building event by the Organization of Iranian American Communities in Washington, Dec. 11, 2018.

In a separate interview with VOA Persian at the event, Engel, the presumptive chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next congressional session that begins in January, said he supports freedom for the people of Iran, but he stopped short of calling for U.S. material support as favored by McClintock.

“I want the people of Iran to know that the people of the U.S. are aware of what is happening in their country and that we stand with the people of Iran, not with the oppressive regime, not with the mullahs in Tehran,” Engel said. “We don’t attempt to tell the people of Iran what kind of government they should elect. They should just have the freedom to be able to do that … the same kind of freedom that American people have.”

Anniversary of protests

OIAC used the event to mark the first anniversary of mass anti-government protests that erupted across Iran in late December 2017 and continued into the first week of January 2018. At least 25 people were killed, among them protesters and security personnel, as the demonstrations turned violent.

Since then, frequent smaller-scale protests have taken place across the country, with Iranians expressing anger toward government officials and business leaders they accuse of corruption, mismanagement and oppression.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.