By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today removed the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, known as the MEK, from the U.S. terrorist blacklist, ending a years-long lobbying campaign by the group that paid former U.S. officials as advocates.
Effective today, the MEK is no longer designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization. As a result, its property and financial interests in the U.S. will no longer be blocked, and U.S. citizens won’t be barred from supporting or engaging in transactions with the group.
“The department does not overlook or forget the MEK’s past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992,” according to a State Department statement. “The department also has serious concerns about the MEK as an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of abuse committed against its own members.”
Clinton’s decision took into account the MEK’s public renunciation of violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism for more than a decade, and the group’s cooperation with the peaceful closing in Iraq of its former paramilitary base, State Department officials said. Her decision was prompted by a federal court order, in a case brought by the MEK, requiring her to determine by Oct. 1 whether the group should remain on the blacklist.
The MEK’s supporters in Washington included members of Congress, former heads of the FBI and the CIA, and former U.S. cabinet secretaries and politicians from both parties. Many have advocated for the MEK as a viable opposition to the mullahs running the Islamic Revolutionary regime in Iran, and some have acknowledged accepting speaking fees of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
One of the State Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive topic, said the decision to revoke the group’s terrorist label was made on the merits, not to appease any group of advocates.
The decision puts the U.S. government in the awkward position of appearing to forgive a group that it acknowledges was involved in terrorist acts, including against Americans. Critics have said the Obama administration is adopting a double standard and overlooking allegations of continued terrorist acts against Iran, a state that the U.S. accuses of sponsoring terrorism itself.
Iran’s government alleges the MEK has cooperated with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast called delisting the group an act of “violating international obligations and weakening global efforts” against terrorism, the state-run Fars news agency reported Sept. 25. The MEK has denied involvement in the assassinations.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California has praised the MEK for the alleged involvement in assassinations of scientists and has said the U.S. should support the group as a legitimate alternative to the current Iranian regime. The State Department officials today rejected that argument.
The Obama administration doesn’t see the MEK as a viable opposition group or as a democratic opposition movement, one department official said. There is no evidence that the MEK could promote democratic principles and values that the U.S. supports, the official said, referring to what he called ample documentation of the group’s abuse of its own members.
The MEK was formed in 1965 to resist the Shah of Iran. After the Shah’s fall in 1979, the group broke with the revolutionary Islamic government and began attacking the regime from neighboring Iraq. The U.S. put the organization on its terrorism list in 1997 for alleged involvement in the killing of six Americans in Iran in the 1970s. The MEK also had made a failed attempt to kidnap the U.S. ambassador to Iran in 1971.
The organization says it disarmed in 2003, following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and has lobbied the U.S. government since then to be removed from the list of terror organizations.
Officials today said Clinton’s decision was also guided by the group’s cooperation in relocating approximately 3,000 followers from Camp Ashraf in Iraq, which had served as a base for paramilitary strikes into Iran with support from then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
A second State Department official said the removal of the group from U.S. terror lists may help the United Nations High Commission for Refugees find nations willing to accept MEK members for resettlement. Almost all the group’s members have relocated from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. base near the Baghdad airport, as an interim step to permanent relocation.
The European Union lifted its terrorist designation of MEK in 2008, five years after MEK says it disarmed.