Rudy Giuliani appeared at a rally against Iran’s regime in Warsaw on Wednesday at the behest of a controversial group once labelled a terrorist organisation by Washington, and without the approval of the Trump administration.
Mr Giuliani, who serves as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, said he attended the demonstration at the invitation of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian resistance group that was on the US state department’s terrorist list until 2012.
The former New York mayor has represented MEK for 11 years, but his work for the group has come under renewed scrutiny since he assumed a formal role in Mr Trump’s legal team in April. He has acknowledged giving a paid speech for the group in May and appeared at an MEK event outside Paris in July.
Mr Giuliani conceded that he had not notified the administration of his plans to attend the rally in Warsaw. Asked whether he had told Mr Trump, Mr Giuliani said: “I’ve done these before and he’s seen it. I don’t know that he knows I’m here right now.” Asked if he was being paid to appear, Mr Giuliani said his arrangements with organisers were confidential.
However, his presence in Warsaw, where US vice-president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo are attending a conference on Middle Eastern affairs, surprised and angered some officials ahead of the gathering, which was billed as an attempt to find broad consensus on regional issues.
Speaking at the rally, Mr Giuliani called for an end to the Iranian regime, arguing any regional peace plan required a “major change in the theocratic dictatorship in Iran”.
“It must end and end quickly,” Mr Giuliani told a crowd of several hundred people waving Iranian flags and flying balloons with slogans such as “Free Iran” and “Regime change” outside Poland’s national football stadium.
“Let’s remind everyone that there is almost complete agreement that the ayatollah’s regime is the number one state sponsor of terrorism not only in the Middle East but in the world.”
Over the past year, EU and US policymakers have diverged sharply over how to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities. Mr Trump last year withdrew from an international agreement aimed at containing Tehran and instead imposed sanctions, but has formally stopped short of calling for regime change. EU nations are trying to keep the original deal afloat.
The conference in Warsaw — to which Iran has not been invited — has become a lightning rod for such disagreements. It was initially billed as an Iran-focused event by US officials, but then broadened to cover regional topics after some invitees expressed reservations about the focus.
The White House declined to comment on Mr Giuliani’s presence in Warsaw.
Mr Trump has taken a much harder line on Iran than his predecessor, Barack Obama. In addition to pulling out from the Iran nuclear deal, his officials have regularly offered very strong support for Iranian citizens protesting the Islamic regime.
Senior administration officials, including Mr Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, have repeatedly rejected suggestions that the US is softly calling for regime change, saying the future of the country was up to the Iranian people to determine.
Mr Bolton this week said that the Iranian regime had produced 40 years of “failure” since the revolution that brought the ayatollahs to power.
“Now it’s up to the Iranian regime to change its behavior, & ultimately up to the Iranian people to determine the direction of their country,” Mr Bolton tweeted this week. “The US will support the will of the Iranian people, & stand behind them to ensure their voices are heard.”
In addition to Mr Pence and Mr Pompeo, the event is to be attended by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but is expected to draw less senior officials from Europe. Mr Giuliani said he was in Warsaw as a private citizen, and played down suggestions that his presence in Warsaw undercut the US administration’s diplomacy.
Jacek Czaputowicz, Poland’s foreign minister, said last week that the conference was not focused on any one country, and would instead be devoted to “horizontal issues, such as financing terrorism, hybrid threats or energy security”.
Asked whether his presence in Warsaw undercut US and Polish diplomacy, Mr Giuliani told journalists: “I think our government legitimately believes that you can change the policy of Iran. If that’s successful, I’d be the happiest man imaginable. [But] I don’t understand how a group of maniacal religious fanatics will ever turn into the leaders of a democratic government. It just doesn’t make sense to me.
“So yes, there’s a slight difference between me, and the Americans who are part of this, and the view of the Obama and now the Trump administration. We see the same aim, we just see different ways of getting there.”
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