National Security

U.S. Removes Iranian Group From Terrorism List

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An Iranian opposition group that has carried out terrorist attacks inside Iran is being removed from the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations. Several Americans died in those attacks. The group known as the MEK has lobbied Congress, former U.S. officials and the media tirelessly. Word came on Friday that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has agreed to delist the group. The MEK met a key U.S. demand by vacating the base in Iraq from which it operated when Saddam Hussein was in power and Iraq and Iran were sworn enemies.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Robert Siegel. It is a move sure to anger Iran. The Obama administration has decided to take an Iranian resistance group known as the MEK off a terrorism list. MEK stands for Mujahadin-e-Khalq. The group has been lobbying for this delisting for years and recently the group won a U.S. court case. The court ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make a decision on the MEK by October 1. NPR's Michele Kelemen explains.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Those she wouldn't talk about the decision publically, state department spokesperson Victoria Nuland confirmed that Secretary Clinton is in contact with Congress about the Iranian resistance movement known as the MEK.

VICTORIA NULAND: The department is now in the process of sending a classified communication from the secretary to the Congress today regarding the designation of the MEK.

KELEMEN: Another State Department official said the decision was based on the group's recent record, not a response to the MEK's relentless lobbying effort or the highly paid former U.S. officials who helped that campaign. But a former CIA official, Paul Pillar, says the MEK's ability to lobby while on the terrorism list was unique. Pillar offers this bit of history of the group which he says deserved to be called a foreign terrorist organization.

PAUL PILLAR: The MEK claimed an ideology that is a weird mixture of Islamism and Marxism. They later allied with the Khomeini revolutionary regime but then broke with that regime, and in subsequent years threw in their lot with Saddam Hussein's Iraq. And one of the reasons they have virtually zero public support in Iran these days is that they're seen as traitors having fought on the Iraqi side in the Iran-Iraq war.

KELEMEN: Pillar, who teaches at Georgetown University, says Iran will see the decision to delist the MEK as a hostile act.

PILLAR: It will be seen in Tehran as one more means of trying to destabilize the Islamic Republic and promote regime change.

KELEMEN: Supporters of the MEK say the group has provided the U.S. with tips about Iran's nuclear program. And the State Department praised the group last week for moving most of the residents of its base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, to a facility near Baghdad, where the United Nations is helping them resettle outside of Iraq. As Kenneth Katzman, an Iran expert at the Congressional Research Service points out, Secretary Clinton had basically told the group that it would get off the terrorism list if it cooperated with that move.

KENNETH KATZMAN: Once she made that statement, the die was cast for this delisting, once they completed that move from Ashraf.

KELEMEN: That could help remove an irritant in U.S. relations with Iraq, Katzman says, by clearing the way for MEK members to resettle elsewhere. He also thinks the MEK will get a boost from the decision.

KATZMAN: It's obviously going to help their fundraising. It's obviously going to help their propaganda. So it - the delisting is going to help them politically, no question about it.

KELEMEN: Katzman says a few months ago, the Obama administration might have been worried about an angry response from Iran. But with nuclear talks going nowhere, he says, the U.S. doesn't have much to lose. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.


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