It might have seemed like a barely consequential item amid another torrent of breaking news. But word that President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, just attended the annual gathering of a controversial Iranian opposition group at its unlikely base in Albania should raise flags for many reasons, not least of which are concerns for Albania’s troubled and fragile democracy.
If Albania is now unexpectedly drawn into one of today’s most dangerous geopolitical conflicts—the one pitting Iran against the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states—the timing couldn’t be worse. The country is in the midst of a full-blown political crisis that has at times turned violent and whose outcome is still uncertain. A member of NATO, Albania has also been trying unsuccessfully to join the European Union for years; its current domestic turmoil makes that goal even more distant. To make matters worse, Albania’s infighting has turned it into an inviting target for malicious actors seeking to take advantage of a distracted, divided nation.
Giuliani, along with some other prominent figures, including former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman and British Conservative MP Matthew Offord, attended the annual “Free Iran” conference of the group known variously as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran and Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK. A shadowy outfit committed to the overthrow of Iran’s theocratic regime, the MEK is often described as a cult and used to be classified by the State Department as a terrorist organization. Now, some of its leading backers work for Trump and his administration, putting Albania in the middle of the Iran file. Perhaps its biggest booster is John Bolton, Trump’s hawkish national security advisor, who wants the MEK to govern Iran.