US delists MEK, does ‘not see as viable Iran opposition’ group

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The State Department announced Friday that, as anticipated, it has decided to remove the controversial Iranian group, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.

The delisting of the anti-regime group is effective as of Friday (September 28), and was largely made on humanitarian grounds, the State Department said.

“We do not see the MEK as a viable opposition movement,” a senior State Department official stressed in a call to journalists Friday. “We have no evidence or confidence the MEK could promote the democratic values we would like to see in Iran. … We continue to have serious concerns about abuses the group has committed to its  own members.”
“I can tell you this decision is made on the merits, not based on” the MEK’s high-profile US lobbying campaign, the senior State Department official added.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to delist the MEK as compensation for the group’s almost complete evacuation of its historic base in Iraq, a US official told Al-Monitor last week. Continue reading

Ahmadinejad: Iran nuclear issue ‘very tiresome subject’

New York__Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confessed Monday that he is tired of discussing the Iran nuclear issue.

The nuclear issue “is a very tiresome subject,” Ahmadinejad told journalists at a media breakfast at a midtown Manhattan hotel Monday morning. “Everyone knows Iran is not seeking” a nuclear weapon.

The whole issue begins “to resemble a comedy show,” Ahmadinejad continued. “Those accusing us have warehouses full” of nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad, on his eighth and perhaps final visit to New York as Iran’s president, looked subdued and somewhat weary at two appearances with journalists and think tank scholars in New York Monday.

In an effort to perhaps lighten the glum mood, the Iranian president shared a joke he said was making the rounds of Iranian school children–at the apparent expense of the six-nation group trying to negotiate a resolution to international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. “In Iran, the children come up with a joke for the P5+1,” he said. “‘How is it possible not to be able to add 5+1 for so many years?'”

Asked by a former American diplomat about the prospect of opening US-Iranian talks on the nuclear issue to bypass the somewhat cumbersome P5+1 format, Ahmadinejad, however, did not answer directly if he would support such an initiative.

“We all know the nuclear issue is a political issue,” Ahmadinejad said at the midday meeting with American think tank scholars and nuclear experts. “Not legal or technical. The problem is between the U.S. and Iran.” Continue reading

On US decision to delist MEK

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has decided to take a controversial Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), off the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations as compensation for the group’s almost complete evacuation of its historic base in Iraq, a US official told Al-Monitor on Friday, Barbara Slavin and I report on the front page. But Iran is likely to see it as a signl that the United States backs Iran regime change:

The official, speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, said the decision – first reported by CNN’s Elise Labott — reflected the fact that all but 200 MEK members have now relocated from Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad to a facility near Baghdad airport where they will be processed for resettlement out of Iraq by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. […]

The US official added that taking the MEK off the terrorist list would not connote US government approval. […]

Iranian officials are likely to be furious at the move which could negatively impact already stalled nuclear negotiations. […]

Philip Zelikow, who dealt with the issue as Counselor to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told Al-Monitor, “From what I can learn, I don’t see any basis for keeping the MEK on the FTO [Foreign Terrorist Organization] list and thus obstructing the resettlement, outside of Iraq, of the Ashraf folks as refugees.  My advice is also unwelcome to the MEK supporters since I’ve told them bluntly that the US can no longer protect them in Iraq and that they should accept resettlement outside of Iraq.”

“I am relieved to see that, thanks to some able US diplomatic work, we seem to have found a solution,” Zelikow added.


Report: US to delist MEK

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to formally notify Congress shortly of her intent to de-list the controversial Iranian group, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (the MEK), from the US list of designated terrorist groups, CNN’s Elise Labott reports, citing three US officials.

“We don’t love these people but the Secretary’s decision is merited based on the record of facts that we have,” one US official told CNN. “This was not done casually and it’s the right decision.”

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

 

US diplomats: "Plainly wrong" to conclude US must remove MEK from terror list

American diplomats firmly pushed back Friday on reports suggesting that the U.S. must remove a controversial Iranian anti-regime group, the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq (MEK), from a U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations.

“MEK leaders appear to believe that the Secretary has no choice now but to delist them,” the State Department's counter-terrorism coordinator Daniel Benjamin said in a call with reporters Friday. “That conclusion is quite plainly wrong.”

“In short, the court did not order the Secretary of State to revoke the MEK designation as a Foreign Terrorist Organization,” Benjamin continued. “The court has told the State Department that it must act by October 1, but it did not mandate a particular result. I think that’s very important to underscore. The Secretary thus retains the discretion to either maintain or revoke the designation in accordance with the law.

The State Department call was prompted by an impasse in efforts by the United States and United Nations to persuade members of the cultish group to leave their former paramilitary base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf.

To date, about 2,000 MEK members have been persuaded to leave Ashraf for the former U.S. Camp Liberty military base in Iraq, where they can be interviewed for possible relocation to third countries. But the last relocation convoy occurred in early May, and some 1,200-1,300 MEK members remain in Ashraf, and are apparently issuing new demands, emboldened by the perception the group's terror designation may soon be revoked.

American officials have sought to encourage the relocation from Ashraf by indicating that cooperation in doing so will be a key factor in determining whether the group remains on the U.S. terror list. But a US court decision last month has interfered with that message.

In June, the US court of appeals ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to issue a determination by October whether the MEK should be taken off the US terror list or its terror designation should be reissued.

Meantime, the Iraqi government is threatening to forcibly close the camp, and the United States is concerned about possible violence and a potential humanitarian disaster should relocation efforts continue to stall.

Despite the group's terrorist designation, several prominent former senior American officials have taken large speaking fees to lobby for delisting the MEK. Among them, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, former Vermont governor Howard Dean, former DHS chief Tom Ridge, former UN ambassador and top Mitt Romney foreign policy adviser John Bolton, former UN ambassador Bill Richardson, and former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani. The Treasury Department issued subpoenas this past spring to determine who is paying for the massive lobbying effort on behalf of a designated terrorist group, and whether US criminal laws have been violated.

But American diplomats said Friday such lobbying will not impact the Secretary's decision on the MEK's designation.  Continue reading

Some US Iran hands blindsided by report US may move to delist MEK

A report in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday that the State Department may move to remove a controversial Iranian militant group known as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) from a list of terrorist organizations has startled several people who work on Iran in and out of the U.S. government.

American officials said the issue almost never came up at a late April all-hands Iran conference that included the entire State Department Iran team of almost 40 people working in Washington and as Iran watchers abroad.

The timing of the report– some 10 days ahead of high-stakes nuclear talks with Iran due to be held in Baghdad May 23—also baffled some Iran watchers, leading one to wonder if “someone got to Clinton” –with an agenda to try to scuttle the talks.

But other Washington Iran hands and legal experts said the decision on whether to remove the MeK from the U.S. list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) does not appear to be imminent and noted there are still several moving parts.

“If this story is accurate – and I have no way to know if it is – then it should not have a significant impact on the upcoming talks in Baghdad simply because of the timing,” said Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran expert now with the Saban Center on the Middle East at the Brookings Institution.

U.S. lawyers this month told a court that a decision on whether to delist the MeK will be made within 60 days after their former paramilitary base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, has been vacated.

“Since there are still 1200 residents of the camp, it would appear that no decision will be made in the foreseeable future,” Maloney noted. “It has taken years to reduce the population from 3000 to 1200, and given the complex security and legal issues at stake for the individual residents, I can only presume it will take months or more to completely vacate the camp.” Continue reading