Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will notify Congress today that she intends to take the Iranian dissident group Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, off a list of terrorist organizations, a State Department official said.
A decision will be formally announced before Oct. 1, a second department official said today. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity pending notification of Congress.
The action will be well-received by Congress, where some lawmakers have advocated delisting for years, while it may spark an angry response from the Iranian government, which has alleged the group has worked to assassinate its nuclear scientists in tandem with Israel.
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 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.
The group has employed prominent figures from both political parties to argue its cause in Washington and overseas. It denies Iran’s claim that the MEK was involved in attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists.
Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California praised Clinton’s “right decision” to delist the MEK, which he said has “worked with the U.S. military since 2003 to help gather intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program.”
Iran may seek to exploit the decision, said Trita Parsi, president of the Chicago-based National Iranian-American Council.
“This is not a positive development in any way, shape or form, and I am very fearful that the Iranian government will significantly benefit from this,” Parsi said in an interview today. “It gives them an opportunity to portray the United States as an enemy of the Iranian people by cozying up” to a group that is “widely disliked by the Iranian public.”
Clinton is notifying Congress under the pressure of a federal court order requiring her to make a decision on whether to change the MEK designation by Oct. 1. She had said that her decision to delist the group would be guided partly by how peacefully the group’s approximately 3,000 followers left their Iraqi camp, which previously served as a base for paramilitary strikes against Iran with support from then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Group members are now in the final stages of moving from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. base near the Baghdad airport, before being permanently relocated to other countries by the United Nations.
Delisting the MEK will expedite the relocation process, and “allow our friends and allies to accept these refugees,” Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said in a statement today.
“The MEK are Iranians who desire a secular, peaceful, and democratic government,” he said. “Nothing threatens the mullah dictatorship more than openness and transparency.”
In a 2008 petition to be removed from the terrorist rolls, MEK said that although it had engaged in terrorist actions in the past, it had ended its military campaign against the Iranian regime, renounced violence, surrendered its arms to U.S. forces in Iraq and shared intelligence with the U.S. government regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
On Jan. 7, 2009, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied the petition. The court granted the MEK’s request for a review of that decision on July 16, 2010, saying that “due process protections” hadn’t been followed.
The European Union lifted its terrorist designation of MEK in 2008, five years after MEK says it disarmed.
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