State Department set to take violent Iranian group off terror list

Middle EastUS Politics
on 28 Comments
MEK
(Photo: EPA/Al Jazeera English)

Secretary of State Clinton is set to announce that the Iranian group Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK) will no longer be on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list. The move comes after a high-profile, years-long lobbying campaign by a bipartisan cast of U.S. politicians and officials to delist MEK, despite a violent past that includes killing Americans. 

CNN breaks the story:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to notify Congress as early as Friday that she intends to take the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, off a State Department terror list, three senior administration officials told CNN.

The notification will be followed by a formal de-listing from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations in the coming days.

The move to delist MEK comes just five days after the last remaining residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq agreed to leave for a new camp in Iraq. MEK members had been staying in the camp, much to the displeasure of the Iraqi government and the U.S. government. Iraqi security forces’ attempts to enter the camp in the past have resulted in violent clashes. The continued presence of MEK members in Camp Ashraf had been a major headache for U.S. officials. CNN notes that Clinton “has said several times that her decision would be guided, in part, by whether the group moves peacefully from Camp Ashraf.”

The decision by Clinton is sure to aggravate Iranian-U.S. tensions at a time of continued negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program.

MEK has been tied to the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. In February, NBC News reported that “deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists are being carried out by an Iranian dissident group [the MEK] that is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service.” While NBC quoted U.S. officials as saying the “U.S. has no direct involvement” in the assassinations, the New Yorker‘s Seymour Hersh reported that the US military trained members of the group in Nevada in 2005. Hersh also reported that, according to an unnamed former official, intelligence continued to be passed on to the group from the U.S. 

The delisting of MEK comes after a high-profile campaign waged by a host of Republicans, Democrats, U.S. officials and Israel advocates. Politicians like Newt Gingrich and Howard Dean and journalists like Clarence Page and Carl Bernstein have all given speeches, many of them paid, to advocate for the delisting of MEK. 

The money being given to U.S. advocates was the subject of a Treasury Department investigation into whether people like former governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell violated U.S. law that prohibits doing business with terrorist groups. 

In February, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on the Israel angle of the lobbying campaign:

Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel — three prominent Jewish activists who have joined with other prominent people in a bid to remove a group with a blood-soaked history from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The names on the growing list of influential American advocates to de-list the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK — known in English as the National Council of Resistance of Iran — suggest an effort to give the bid a pro-Israel imprimatur.

UPDATE: The National Iranian American Council weighs in:

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) deplores the decision to remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. The decision opens the door to Congressional funding of the MEK to conduct terrorist attacks in Iran, makes war with Iran far more likely, and will seriously damage Iran’s peaceful pro-democracy movement as well as America’s standing among ordinary Iranians.

“The biggest winner today is the Iranian regime, which has claimed for a long time that the U.S. is out to destroy Iran and is the enemy of the Iranian people. This decision will be portrayed as proof that the U.S. is cozying up with a reviled terrorist group and will create greater receptivity for that false argument,” said NIAC Policy Director Jamal Abdi.

Members of Iran’s democratic opposition, Iran experts, human rights defenders, and former U.S. officials have warned that delisting the MEK “will have harmful consequences on the legitimate, indigenous Iranian opposition.” Kaleme, a leading pro-democracy newspaper in Iran run by supporters of the opposition Green Movement, has warned that support for the MEK strengthens the Iranian regime. According to the opposition paper, “there is no organization, no party and no cult more infamous than the MEK amongst the Iranian nation.

The group’s full statement on the delisting is here.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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28 Responses

  1. mig
    September 21, 2012, 1:44 pm

    “Secretary of State Clinton is set to announce that the Iranian group Mujahideen al-Khalq (MEK) will no longer be on the State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organization list.”

    Surprise anyone ?

    • Blake
      September 21, 2012, 3:49 pm

      Yep was kind of obvious when the Iranian scientists were being assassinated

  2. Kathleen
    September 21, 2012, 2:15 pm

    This push has to do with all of the business that Israel and the U.S. have been doing with the MEK. Business with a group that has been on the U.S. terrorist list. Would put money this will come back to bite them in the ass just the way the Al Qeada attack on the U.S. consulate killing four Americans has come back at them. Former Al Qeada members were the head of the Libyan rebels…Ambassador Stevens worked directly with these Libyan/Al Qeada rebels to overthrow Qaddafi. U.S.. terrorist expert reports on Wednesday that those who attacked the U. S. Consulate were foreigners associated with Al Qeada.

    This MEK off the terrorist list is to protect them from prosecution having to do with dirty business they have all ready done with the MEK. Put money it comes back to bite them in the ass.

    I had thought the Dept of Justice was investigating those pushing for MEK being taken off the terrorist list. Rendell etc? Oh yeah that is in this piece.

    Wondering how this would counter exempt them from prosecution having to do with any business they have all ready done with the MEK?

    • Alex Kane
      September 21, 2012, 2:54 pm

      Kathleen, I was surprised when the Treasury Department began investigating Rendell and others. My guess–only a guess–is that this will ensure they won’t be prosecuted.

      Not that I thought they would be held accountable even if the MEK had remained on the list. But this seems to be the nail in the coffin of that investigation.

      If they were Muslims, they’d be thrown in jail already.

      • American
        September 21, 2012, 4:36 pm

        Yep, nothing will come of the investigation it never does.
        Corrupt and criminal politicians are protected.

  3. Kathleen
    September 21, 2012, 4:21 pm

    So Alex what do you know about how that would go in a court room since Israel has been working with MEK and MEK was on the U.S. terrorist list when they were working with them. There must be laws about a sworn ally of ours working with a group on the U.S. terrorist list. Wonder if this de listing will work for exempting past interactions with MEK. Clearly I do not know the law

  4. Kathleen
    September 21, 2012, 4:29 pm

    So did Clinton de list MEK today..Friday…end of news cycle? Was it MEK or the Jundallah that Israel was caught posing as U.S. CIA and going business with. Thought both the Bush and Obama administrations were pissed over this?

    The news story that I am curious about disappearing is that Navy analyst who exposed Cheney’s lets bomb Iran moving forward story. She now lives in Australia. No where to be found after that first story in the Wapo. What happened?

  5. American
    September 21, 2012, 4:40 pm

    Wonder who I can email in Iraq and ask them to wipe out this group before they leave.
    MEK is another example of a entity that has killed Americans (one US Amb and a couple of other officials and some Military officers) and the US did nothing about it.

  6. bobsmith
    September 21, 2012, 5:11 pm

    Well, they may still be terrorists, but now they’re our terrorists.

    • ToivoS
      September 21, 2012, 7:44 pm

      they may still be terrorists, but now they’re our terrorists

      One would think that blowing up a civilian airliner and killing all passengers and crew would be considered an act of terrorism, but you would be wrong if the target was Cubana Airlines and the perps were working for the CIA: link to en.wikipedia.org

      To this day one Posada lives in happy retirement in Miami and the US refuses to extradite him to Venezuela where the crime occurred.

  7. ColinWright
    September 21, 2012, 7:56 pm

    Well, on the one hand, this is pretty disgusting. Particularly:

    “…Alan Dershowitz, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel — three prominent Jewish activists who have joined with other prominent people in a bid to remove a group with a blood-soaked history from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations…”

    And particularly Elie the Weasel, who has been prostituting his moral creds on behalf of Israel for as long as I can remember. So much for Night. He’s sold the Holocaust for more Israel points.

    On the other hand…

    “…MEK has been tied to the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists…”

    Maybe — just maybe — this is all part of some deal we’ve cut with Iran. Part of the deal is to call off MEK, and not let Israel hire them any more. Speaking of which, it’s been getting to be a while since an Iranian scientist got whacked, isn’t it? That could result from several things — but at least one of them could be us and Iran having quietly agreed just what we’re going to do about all this.

    • NickJOCW
      September 22, 2012, 7:25 am

      Colin, I wish I could believe your last paragraph but I think it more likely a deal between the MEK and the Administration. Obama has enunciated his policy for ‘leading from behind’ which basically means getting others to do your dirty work. Might it not rather be that the MEK, prodded by Mossad and others to get on with its terrorist activities in Iran, has demanded de-listing up front in return? Should that be so, the past could be irrelevant in the face of services to come. It might be the prelude to something quite nasty going to happen in Iran.

      • ColinWright
        September 23, 2012, 4:57 am

        NickJOCW: “…Colin, I wish I could believe your last paragraph but I think it more likely a deal between the MEK and the Administration. “

        Well, if my idea was a stock, I wouldn’t buy any of it myself.

        However, I do think it’s a possibility. Various stray bits over the last few weeks suggest we may have comprehensively blocked off Netanyahu from starting a war, and this could be part of the package. The deal between the MEK and the administration may be that we let their members go into a dignified retirement.

        Okay, it’s not super likely.

      • NickJOCW
        September 23, 2012, 5:43 am

        Colin, It makes sense. But where might such contacts be made? Perhaps the P5+1 talks are a front, like the Brokeback guys’ fishing trips. After all, they don’t come back with any fish.

      • ColinWright
        September 23, 2012, 4:39 pm

        NickJOCW says: “Colin, It makes sense. But where might such contacts be made? Perhaps the P5+1 talks are a front, like the Brokeback guys’ fishing trips. After all, they don’t come back with any fish.”

        The Iranians have always seemed to regard anything as open to negotiation; they were even trying to coordinate action over the Taliban with us.

        What’s more, they succeed sometimes. Witness Iran-Contra. We’re able to talk with them when we want to.

  8. Abdul-Rahman
    September 21, 2012, 8:38 pm

    This move by the US government will be widely denounced by ALL Iranians, whatever they think about the current Iranian government. I can’t think of any sizable group of Iranians who have any “like” for the MEK! Heck, even the old Shah supporters (that are still to be found in Los Angeles, “Shah’s of Sunset” anyone lol) do not have any real like for the MEK (aside from maybe just supporting any group that does anything against the current Iranian government) as the MEK fought against the Shah’s regime itself (and thus old Shah supporters say groups like the MEK are partially responsible for the 1979 Iranian Revolution that these Shah supporters obviously detested/detest)! And also all Iranians know that the MEK sided with Saddam (against their own country) in the bloody Iran-Iraq of 1980-1988 here’s a picture of Saddam greeting MEK leader Massoud Rajavi in Baghdad link to 4.bp.blogspot.com i.e. again I can’t think of ANY sizable group of Iranians period that support this group in any manner whatsoever.

    The only group that “likes” (i.e. benefits) from the MEK today are American officials and Likudniks that want an exile proxy group to use against Tehran now.

  9. traintosiberia
    September 21, 2012, 10:46 pm

    Will MEK do something violent and the blame will be passed to Iran with the same eagerness by the same diehard neocons generating same effects that Iraqis came to enjoy for 10 years ? Who will replace Iraq in that new “Axis of Evil” ? Will it be our Israel-averse friend Pakistan?
    Most likely they will claim MEK was always a front organization of the mullah and US was taken for a long ride by a rogue outfit of Mehdi Army Chances are that the neocons will offer the sacred space at Weekly Standard and FOX to some Terror experts and Islam experts to remind US that the “problem is not with Islam but is with the Islam itself”

  10. Kathleen
    September 22, 2012, 2:01 am

    Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have one up about this Obama administration decision.

    • traintosiberia
      September 22, 2012, 9:09 am

      Kathleen
      Can you post the link please?

    • NickJOCW
      September 22, 2012, 4:47 pm

      Kathleen, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, whom I greatly admire, have a broader perspective than most. This is not a value judgment but rather means their interpretations are more cerebral, the corollary being that they take less account of the pragmatic manner in which most US foreign policy decisions are made, and in which events like those unfolding in Syria occur. All the world’s a stage, the master wrote, but not everyone is on it, some are in the audience.

  11. fillmorehagan
    September 22, 2012, 8:43 am

    Top Iranian general says an attack on Iran inevitable. Says such an attack will lead to the destruction of the Israeli regime.

    The delisting of MEK as a terror group will almost certainly reinforce these perceptions.

    link to presstv.ir

  12. traintosiberia
    September 22, 2012, 9:11 am

    MEK has been raising money for sometime now. Where is the money coming form? Is it US money sent to Israel as aid and grant that then was routed to back to US to pay for the lobbyist?
    Or do they have legit income from legit sources?

  13. traintosiberia
    September 22, 2012, 9:51 am

    Bush not that long ago told the world “We don’t differentiate between those who support terrorism and who harbor them”. Israel found a loophole .One can rent one . Was not Abu Nidal rented by Israel and was blamed for being a pet crony of Saddam?
    With such a history and universal forgetfulness of dumb Americans, any terror activity of this group will met likely be blamed on long expired Saddam if Iraq needed to be reminded who is the sheriff in town or on Iran .Eli Wesiel will hold the hand of US president to soothe any moral issue with the credentials of a holocaust survivor the way he held Bush Jr’s to attack Iraq . The moral dilemma has always been with Zionist how to make the world accept two contrasting-opposing concepts same time .They have chosen always to ignore the morality .Once that area is resolved by noticing that their is no outcry from those who matter,any other concern like legality or impropriety is no longer an issue that can stop them in their tracks. Eli Wesiel at least twice , first time in denying any proportional victimhood to Gypsy and then to Naqba survivors confirmed it. His war mongering in the service of the neocons is perfectly aligned with his rotten but glorified moral compass

  14. traintosiberia
    September 22, 2012, 10:01 am

    “Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel”
    These three should be responsible for any attacks on civilians anywhere by MEK. They should not be treated any differently than Anwar Al waki had been.

    • ColinWright
      September 23, 2012, 5:08 am

      train to siberia says: ““Famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, former Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel”
      These three should be responsible for any attacks on civilians anywhere by MEK. They should not be treated any differently than Anwar Al waki had been.”

      They’re slime, but they’re not the ones who delisted the MEK.

  15. NickJOCW
    September 22, 2012, 5:40 pm

    Off topic, but if you have time glance at this:
    link to presstv.ir
    The dilemma too often these days is whether to laugh or cry. Were it ever accepted as true we had all best join Mooser at his favorite watering hole.

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