The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration is moving to remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department’s terrorism list, say officials briefed on the talks, in an action that could further poison Washington’s relations with Tehran at a time of renewed diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
The exile organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MeK, was originally named as a terrorist entity 15 years ago for its alleged role in assassinating U.S. citizens in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran and for allying with Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein against Tehran.
The MeK has engaged in an aggressive legal and lobbying campaign in Washington over the past two years to win its removal from the State Department’s list. The terrorism designation, which has been in place since 1997, freezes the MeK’s assets inside the U.S. and prevents the exile group from fundraising.
Senior U.S. officials said on Monday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to make any final decision on the MeK’s status. But they said the State Department was looking favorably at delisting MeK if it continued cooperating by vacating a former paramilitary base inside Iraq, called Camp Ashraf, which the group had used to stage crossborder strikes into Iran.
The group has already renounced terrorism, which was the main earlier sticking point. Residents have resisted leaving the camp because they feared retribution if they were returned to Iran and political irrelevancy abroad.
The U.S. officials said Mrs. Clinton would make her final decision on the MeK’s status no less than 60 days after the last MeK member is relocated from Camp Ashraf to a new transit facility near Baghdad international airport. The U.S. is working with the United Nations to resettle Camp Ashraf residents in third countries. Roughly 1,200 people remain at the camp from an earlier population of over 3,000.
“The MeK’s cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf…will be a key factor in her decision regarding the MeK’s [foreign-terrorist organization] status,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Monday.
Western and Iranian diplomats are concerned that the MeK issue could draw serious recriminations from Tehran, which has been fixated on neutralizing the group. Many of Iran’s top leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were targets of MeK attacks during the 1980s.
Iran has regularly accused Western countries of hypocrisy for providing shelter to MeK members while criticizing Tehran’s support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. “We believe that despite the claims that others make about fighting terrorism, they [Western nations] provide the most support for terrorist groups,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, said last week. “In Europe, the MeK has already been removed from the list of terrorist organizations and they are completely safe to continue their activities.” [Continue reading…]