NEW YORK — Iranian exiles and the Iranian government can make for a combustible combination, as a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry discovered after an address by the country’s president to the United Nations during this week’s General Assembly.
Not long after the speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, the spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, was shoved and shouted at by a small group of protesters as he tried to cross the street near Second Avenue and East 48th Street. Police officers stepped in quickly to protect him, ordering the protesters back.
Video of the incident, obtained by The Associated Press from a documentary filmmaker, showed that the protesters included a man wrapped in an old Iranian flag; another man in a yellow vest worn by supporters of the Mujahedeen Khalq, a powerful Iranian exile group known as the MEK or MKO; and a woman wearing a T-shirt for Ma Hastim, a rights group associated with the Iranian exile community in Los Angeles and whose name is Persian for “We Are.”
Iran’s state-run satellite news channel, Press TV, placed blame for the assault on supporters of the MEK, identifying them as “anti-Iran MKO terrorists.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently decided to remove the MEK from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations after an intense lobbying campaign on behalf of the group.
Alireza Miryousefi, the press attache for Iran’s Mission to the United Nations, said the episode resulted from “aggression by MEK sect members” against Mehmanparast, who, he said, was not hurt.
Miryousefi warned that removing the “terrorist sect” from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations “would be another wrong step by the U.S. administration.”
Another video clip, apparently recorded by the cellphone of a man shouting threats at Mehmanparast from very close range, showed police officers escorting the spokesman from protesters screaming “terrorist.” The episode occurred after Iranian exiles rallied outside the United Nations to protest Ahmadinejad’s speech. Maryam Rajavi, the leader of the MEK, which is described as a cult by some former members, addressed the rally from France by satellite. Patrick J. Kennedy, a former congressman from Rhode Island, who said last year that he had been paid $25,000 to voice his support for the MEK at a rally in Washington, also addressed the protest Wednesday.
An MEK organizer, Homeira Hesami, an Iranian expatriate who is a medical technician in Texas, said a group of Iranian officials being escorted by police officers had been walking west on East 47th Street from the U.N. campus toward Second Avenue around 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday when a number of protesters recognized Mehmanparast.
“I saw him walking by, and of course we started chanting‚ ‘Get lost!’ in Farsi,” said Hesami, who was across the street. “People were angry at him and surrounded him. The presence of Ahmadinejad at the U.N. made people very emotional.”