Iran opposition chief sees rebirth

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AUVERS-SUR-OISE, France (AP) — The leader of an Iranian militant group that was taken off the U.S. terror list on Friday says the move will change her group’s “balance of power” with the world — predicting a higher profile in politics, fundraising and diplomacy and increased anti-regime activity in Iran.

The U.S. State Department said the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) hasn’t committed terror for more than a decade. The group has also complied with demands that more than 3,000 of its once-armed members abandon their base in Iraq near the Iranian border for a camp outside Baghdad, an essential step to ending their decades-long presence in Iraq.

The U.S. decision means that, effective immediately, any assets the group has in the United States are unblocked and Americans are permitted to do business with the organization.

A court order had given Clinton until Oct. 1 to act. The group was removed from the European Union’s terrorist list in 2009.

Maryam Rajavi, the Paris-based head of the exiled opposition group, said in a rare interview that she hopes the organization can now have the ear of the world’s diplomats to help bolster its bid to overthrow Iran’s clerical regime. She stressed that its goal was to replace the Islamic Republic with a democratic government.

“It now has become evident for everyone that these (terror) allegations were untrue,” she said, praising U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her “courage.”

“Our cause is democracy and the freedom of democracy for the future of Iran,” Rajavi said. “We are against fundamentalism which is in power in Iran. … The mullahs’ (clerical) regime is the center of the exportation of terrorism and fundamentalism in the Middle East.”

However, a senior State Department official suggested that removing MEK from the U.S. terrorist list does not translate into a shared common front against the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The official said Washington does not view MEK as an opposition movement that can promote democratic values in Iran. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

“They are not part of our picture in terms of the future of Iran,” the official said.

The Iranian regime is sure to be furious at the U.S. decision to delist MEK — for years the only armed exile opposition group. The group, which began as a guerrilla movement fighting Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, helped overthrow the monarch in 1979 then quickly fell out with the Islamic Republic’s first leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

MEK later teamed up with Iraq to battle Iran in an eight-year war in the 1980s, then from its Iraqi base continued military action against neighboring Iran.

The United States contends the group was responsible for the killing of several American military officials and defense contractors in the 1970s, carrying out attacks on Iran from its base in Iraq.

The MEK spent huge sums of money over years lobbying for removal from the U.S. terror list, holding rallies in European capitals and elsewhere that featured luminaries like former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge from the administration of George W. Bush. Former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was among those recently welcomed by the MEK to Paris.

Rajavi, 58, wore what has become a trademark headscarf among MEK women during the interview Friday at MEK’s headquarters in the leafy town of Auvers-Sur-Oise north of Paris. She denied claims by critics that MEK has all the earmarks of a cult, saying it is Iran who seeded such allegations as part of their “psychological war” against the group.

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