State Department set to take violent Iranian group off terror list

Middle EastUS Politics
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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.

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