NEW YORK — The Obama administration has taken the Mujahideen-e-Khalq off the U.S. terrorist blacklist culminating an expensive PR campaign by the Iranian dissidents.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision took into account the MeK’s public renunciation of violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the group for more than a decade, and their cooperation in the closure of Camp Ashraf, their paramilitary base in Iraq, the State Department said in a statement.
Following an extensive review, U.S. officials found no evidence of the group’s involvement in terrorist activity.
The decision was based on a “global evaluation of the group’s activities,” a senior State Department official told reporters in a background call on Friday afternoon.
The MeK was responsible for terrorist attacks in Iran in the 1970s that killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians, according to the State Department. The group denies any role in the deaths of U.S. military personnel.
The State Department said that it “does not overlook or forget the MEK’s past acts of terrorism, including its involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992.”
The MeK was given shelter by Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It has since renounced violence and in 2003 surrendered its weapons as part of a cease-fire agreement with U.S. forces.
The MeK says it is now working to overthrow the Iran’s Islamic regime through peaceful means.
The senior State Department official said the group’s activities in Iran were also considered in the decision to delist.
“We do not distinguish between actions in or against Iran or in or against any other country,” the senior State Department official.
The decision, effective immediately, allows U.S. citizens to support the group without the need for a license.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an ally of Iran, has sought to shut down the group’s paramilitary base, Camp Ashraf, in a bid to kick its members out of his country.
Mrs. Clinton’s decision was shaped, in part, by the MeK’s cooperation in relocating from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, a temporary location near Baghdad’s international airport.
U.N. and Western officials have said the terrorist designation by the U.S. had deterred Western nations from taking in members of the MeK. The decision on Friday could remove that hurdle.
“It is certainly plausible to assume that this action will assist in our efforts to support the UNHCR in its efforts to find homes for these people outside Iraq,” a second senior State Department official said on background.
A U.S. appeals court in June set an Oct. 1 deadline for Mrs. Clinton to take a decision on removing the MeK from terrorist blacklist.
Britain and the European Union took the MeK off their lists of terrorist organizations in 2008 and 2009 respectively.
Maryam Rajavi, MeK’s Paris-based leader, welcomed Mrs. Clinton’s decision.
“I understand that this decision was difficult and required political courage,” Mrs. Rajavi said. “This has been the correct decision, albeit long overdue, in order to remove a major obstacle in the path of the Iranian people’s efforts for democracy.”
The MeK has sought to position itself as a democratic force in Iran. However, U.S. officials are skeptical about its qualifications.
“We do not see the MeK as a viable opposition or democratic opposition movement ,” the first senior State Department official said. “We have no evidence and we have no confidence that MeK is an organization that could promote the democratic values that we would like to see in Iran.”
The Clinton administration designated the MeK as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 in an attempt to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough with the Iranian government.
Iran lashed out at the decision to take the MeK off the terrorism list.
A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry on Wednesday condemned U.S. plans to take the MeK off the terrorist list.
“The United States’ double standard in dealing with terrorism and instrumental use of these groups for political gain is not a new issue,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
“If the U.S. government goes ahead with this move, then it will be accountable for the blood of thousands of Iranians and Iraqis spilt by this cult… and it weakens world efforts in combating terrorism,” he said.
The MeK, whose leadership is based in Paris, invested a lot of money in an intense and expensive campaign to get itself off the U.S. terrorist blacklist. The group has prominent Republican as well as Democratic supporters, some of whom have admitted taking money to speak on behalf of the group.
The State Department officials said that campaign did not influence Mrs. Clinton’s decision.
The group’s supporters plan to celebrate outside the State Department on Friday.
The decision to delist the MeK, also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, will be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday.