The Obama administration said Monday that an Iranian dissident group must immediately accept an offer of asylum from Albania for some its members being housed at a camp in Iraq.
Albania has agreed to take in 210 members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK), a dissident group that seeks to overthrow Iran’s theocratic regime.
The MeK has rejected the offer.
The U.S. wants the MeK leadership to “accept the government of Albania’s humanitarian offer immediately, and urges the residents of Camp [Liberty] to resume participation in resettlement interviews to ensure that individuals avail themselves of safe and secure relocation opportunities outside Iraq,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The dissidents are housed at Camp Liberty, a temporary location near Baghdad’s international airport.
“We further urge the MeK leadership to place the highest priority on the safety and security of the former residents of [Camp] Ashraf through full and unconditional cooperation with the resettlement process,” Mrs. Nuland said.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has been interviewing Camp Liberty residents to determine their eligibility for refugee status.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants the Iranians out of his country.
The Iraqi government is “working closely with the U.N. and the international community to find a permanent places for the residents of the Camp Hurriya outside Iraq,” an Iraqi official said on background.
The Obama administration welcomed the Albanian offer, which it described as “generous,” and thanked Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha “for the humanitarian gesture to provide a safe haven” for the Iranians, said Mrs. Nuland.
“We believe the permanent resettlement of former Ashraf residents outside Iraq is the only sustainable solution and remain committed to assisting [U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees] and the government of Iraq in this endeavor,” she said.
Saddam Hussein gave the MeK refuge in Iraq in the 1980s. The dissidents established a paramilitary base, Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad. After the Iraqi strongman was overthrown in a U.S. invasion in 2003, U.S. military forces disarmed the dissidents, who had renounced violence in 2001.
Meanwhile, Martin Kobler, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general in Iraq, met Deputy Secretary of State William Burns at the State Department on Monday morning.
Mrs. Nuland said the U.S. “strongly supports” Mr. Kobler, the UNHCR and UNAMI.
The Clinton administration designated the MeK as a foreign terrorist group in 1997 while it sought to open negotiations with Iran. The designation had proved to be an obstacle to finding other countries willing to give asylum to the Iranians.
The Obama administration took the MeK off the terrorism list in September.
Camp Ashraf’s 3,100 residents were transferred to Camp Liberty under a deal brokered by the U.N. in December.