America, Iran and a terrorist label

By Bernd Debusmann
November 19, 2010

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Who says that the United States and Iran can’t agree on anything? The Great Satan, as Iran’s theocratic rulers call the United States, and the Islamic Republic see eye-to-eye on at least one thing, that the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) are terrorists.

America and Iran arrived at the terrorist designation for the MEK at different times and from different angles but the convergence is bizarre, even by the complicated standards of Middle Eastern politics. The United States designated the MEK a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997, when the Clinton administration hoped the move would help open a dialogue with Iran. Thirteen years later, there is still no dialogue.

But the group is still on the list, despite years of legal wrangling over the designation through the U.S. legal system. Britain and the European Union took the group off their terrorist lists in 2008 and 2009 respectively after court rulings that found no evidence of terrorist actions after the MEK renounced violence in 2001.

On July 16, a federal appeals court in Washington instructed the Department of State to review the terrorist designation, in language that suggested that it should be revoked. But Hillary Clinton’s review mills appear to be grinding very slowly.

A group of lawmakers from both parties reminded Clinton of the court ruling this week and drew attention to a House resolution in June — it has more than 100 co-sponsors and the list is growing — that called for the MEK to be taken off the terrorist list. Doing so would not only be the right thing, the six leading sponsors said in a letter, it would also send the right message to Tehran. Translation: using the terrorist label as a carrot does not work, so it’s time to be tough.

Come January, when a new, Republican-dominated House of Representatives begins its term, Clinton and President Barack Obama are likely to come under pressure from hawkish members of congress to act tough towards Iran, further tighten economic sanctions and ensure that those already existing don’t erode.

The influential House Foreign Affairs Committee will be headed by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an enthusiastic MEK-backer, who said in a recent interview with Reuters correspondent Pascal Fletcher that the West must make clear it means business about implementing sanctions against Iran. “If…we convey a sense of weakness and a lack of resolve, the centrifuges (in Iran’s uranium enrichment program) keep spinning.”

GROUP BLEW WHISTLE ON NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Ironically, it was the MEK which gave the first detailed public account of Iran’s until-then secret nuclear projects at the cities of Natanz and Arak, in 2002. The disclosure greatly turned up the volume of the international controversy over Iran’s intentions. (Iran’s leaders firmly deny that work on nuclear bombs is underway).

Iran’s nuclear program is likely to rise close to the top of Obama’s foreign policy agenda in the second half of his mandate, particularly if there are no signs of progress in the on-again, off-again attempts to break the present stalemate. The next talks are scheduled for Dec. 5, between the so-called P5+1 (U.N. Security Council members Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States, plus Germany) and Iran.

Other than getting the United States in sync with its Western allies on their assessment of the MEK, what would taking it off the 47-strong American list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations change? In the United States, it would unfreeze frozen funds and allow the group to reopen its office and operate freely as an advocacy group.

In Iran, it would deprive the government of an all-purpose scapegoat to taint all reformists with the MEK brush. In arresting alleged members or sympathizers, Iranian authorities routinely mention that even the United States considers the group terrorist. In their letter to Clinton, the legislators argued that the U.S. designation allowed Iranian officials to “further justify their draconian punishments”.

How much support the MEK, whose leadership is based in Paris, enjoys in Iran is a matter of dispute and many experts rate it as insignificant. But there is no dispute over draconian punishments for Iranians judged to be members or sympathizers. That prompts charges of “waging war against God”, which is punishable by death.

The MEK’s appeal to the Washington court in summer was its fifth petition. It remains to be seen how long the United States. and Iran will stay on the same page on the matter.

23 comments

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MEK support inside Iran is undeniable. Otherwise, how can an organization survive all these hardship? From unfair terrorist label to bombing MEK members in camp Ashraf. MEK can win any election under US supervision. The Iranian Mullahs don’t doubt it. That’s why they spent 100 million in US alone to dehumanize MEK and fool US politicians.

Posted by alisadeq | Report as abusive

You are not saying the Foreign Terrorist designation and rehabilitation is completely political, are you?

Then what meaning does it have?

Posted by BiBiJon | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann is talking nonsense. MEK is indeed a terrorist organization that was involved in multiple bombings in Iran that killed the then president and prime minister of Iran. It was also supported by Saddam Hussein and fought against Iran in the unprovoked attack on Iran by Saddam Hussein. Also, its organization revolves around a cult of personality dominated by the Rajavis who manipulate its members and have turned most of them into zombies.

The MEK is hated in Iran. So, it is not clear what benefit taking it off the “terrorist list” will have in Iran. Do you think it is going to intimidate Iran? Is it going to improve relations between Iran and the US? The US is already supporting the Jundullah terrorist group. So, it will be one more piece of proof that the US is a state-sponsor of terrorism, while claiming that Iran is one.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is a dangerous person to be in charge of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We can also say goodbye to any possibility of rapprochement with Cuba after 50 years of sanctions. The US Congress is an irrational and regressive institution that is controlled by special interests. So, we should look forward to decades more of futile efforts in foreign affairs. President Obama and Hillary Clinton also appear to be amateurs who seem to go along with whatever their neo-con staff members recommend.

Posted by Logical123 | Report as abusive

Hello
I agree that the Mojahedin are not terrorists. I am an Iranian and I am appalled that the US would label a group of people as terrorists just to appease the mullahs regime. How come no court in the world (except those in Iran) has labeled the Mojahedin as terrorists. It’s a political label. And it’s wrong.

Posted by Hamid_Irani | Report as abusive

Illogical123
There is ample evidence to disprove any of the allegations you stated, which by the way only makes you sound more like someone who works for the Iranian regime. Nonetheless, if you’re making these claims against the studies, research, evidence, and support publicly provided by those who’ve worked on this case, then how can we take you credibly?

If you say that the MeK don’t intimidate the Iranian government, then why does Iran focus so much of it’s attention on it?

Posted by misterboss | Report as abusive

Mr. Debusmann has addressed one the most unbelievable and disastrous policies that the US has adopted in the Middle East in recent times. I have followed the ME affairs for years and know that this designation from the onset was done to curry favor to Tehran rulers. The fallacy of this approach is before us. The MEK has taken the most logical approach and has gone to court, as the law stipulates. Yet the State still resists rectifying its huge mistake. If the State ignores the Court and the Congress, one should lead to believe that they are willing to kowtow to Tehran’s wishes. But to what end? I think the State officials are not willing to address this question. Labeling innocent people terrorists to be able to negotiate with the terror masters in Tehran cannot be called politics. It is capitulation. Correct the wrong now.

Posted by kramer2010 | Report as abusive

I simply do not see any logic in comment of “logical123.”
While I could easily deduce his political inclination of being in favor of offering more concessions to Tehran and in favor of Tehran tyrants, yet I think this is not pertinent to this case. Calling the activists of the MEK as zombies is an insult to these people. His whole take on this issue is absurd. According to what definition, what criterion, groups and individuals would be considered or classified as terrorists or not terrorists base don benefit and cost-effectiveness. This is the crux of the whole argument that this designation was politically motivated and this should not be the case. The designation should be based on facts. If Mr. logical had taken the time to read the court verdict of DC Circuit court, it clearly stated that the evidence on MEK does not stand court’s scrutiny and is unreliable. Logic compels one to trust court after court rulings, unless one has a political act to grind and this is exactly the case.
Mr. Logical’s comment actually corroborates the fact that this designation is flawed. Abraham Lincoln once said “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” Logic tells us that all the courts in the UK, EU and US could not be fooled, unless on believes courts are of no significance and values and that is exactly what Tehran rulers practice.

Posted by kramer2010 | Report as abusive

The above commented is dellussional and bviously has no idea of piltocs pr mko, the only zombies are the ones like the above comment who have no clue about why mko attacked Iranian officials who were killing mko by the hundreds every day, indeed mko lost some 30,000 members to the mollah regime, and u expect mko to dot silently and ve killed? Yes they had to flee to Iraq as they had no choice if they wanted to stay alive.
The above person reallyudt be stupid as they do not understand how many lives were actialy saved by mko by fighting Iran, why do you think khomeini agreed to the ceasefire with Iraq? The answer is because Khomeini could not fight both Iraq and mko and ynetefore had to end the war. If mko stood still and died then god knows how long the Oran Iraq war would have lasted and how many thousands of others would have died due to Khomeini.
So before you act as judge and jurer remember not everything is black and White especially in politics.
I am a proud supporter of mko/pmoi and o am not a Muslim, I have visited camp ashraf and my family there and I know there is no brainwashing and they can leave when they want to bit they choose not to and they put their lives at risk on a daily basis.
Also let us not forget in the last 32 years who else has stood up against the evil Khomeini regime in Iran? Only mko are the main opposition to the regime while the rest shy quietly and watch. And who was it that brought out the evil atomic intentions of the mollah regime without mko only god knows what evils the regime would have gotten away with.
To the above comment, try and read the article again and understand why clinton put mko on the terror list and also why European courts had to delist them

Posted by Vega_uk | Report as abusive

Very good article, the truth must be told. It looks like it has hit the right on the spot as mullahs’trumpeter is up and mr. logical’s comments are more of a description of the mullahs’ totalitarian ruling during the last 30 years.

Mr. logical understand this, the problem of Iran is not the US or any other persons. Iran’s problem was, is the religious fascism domination, which now is speading like cancer.

Posted by Dormillon | Report as abusive

Logical123,

I find it a little humerus that you are criticizing the US government in both it’s form, functionality, and supposed support of terrorism in the same paragraph as Iran.

However dysfunctional the US government may be, it is infinitely preferable to the joke of a system maintained by Iran. The US does not have a brutal and repressive dictator that regularly tortures, imprisons, and censures any opposition to his power. The US also does not have a dictator who regularly makes a fool of himself standing up in front of the world’s nations preaching for war, conflict, and aggression against the entire developed world.

Iranian support of terrorism is well documented and thousands of weapon shipments are regularly intercepted that can be directly traced back to Iran. Most of the ongoing violence and instability in Iraq is probably the direct result of Iran supporting such chaos via suicide bombers, equipment, and training to radical militias.

Iran is the the single most destabilizing force in the world today and their dictator has no intention of working towards peace. His power comes from keeping the hatred for the west as strong as possible.

Posted by MetaVita | Report as abusive

“…it was the MEK which gave the first detailed public account of Iran’s until-then secret nuclear projects at the cities of Natanz and Arak, in 2002.”
Really! Where did MEK get this intelligence? On the phone from Paris?. These crazies killed 3 Americans in Iran working on Ibex security. They are the one group that everyone in Iran hates universally. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen would do well to wake up to reality before thinking these quasi-ss wanabees should be a US ally. Bad move!!!

Posted by skteze | Report as abusive

Logical123 and MetaVita,

I got a wide diversity of mixed emotions when I read your comments. I have some thoughts I would like to share before commenting:

1- Educated estimate on Palestinian and Israeli death-toll since 1948?
2- Educated estimate on Lebanese and Israeli death-toll since 1978?
3- Educated estimate on Iranian and Iraqi death-toll during 1980-1988?
4-Educated estimate on US and Iraqi death-toll during 2003-2010?

The twenty five years of being have taught me to persevere and remain optimistic. Yet I haven’t lived a conflict-free week since my eighteenth birthday, when I became an adult refugee.

Today, the only thing I’m optimistic about is eccentrically anticipating the day I can brag about having my refugee status to drained chauvinists. You know, because if both countries you stand for maintain the course…I could be having a Miller, or a Chai, with either one of you someday.

P.S If the refuge of a refugee is invaded and occupied, will the socially censured status be demoted once again?

Yours truly,
Crywolf

Posted by crywolf | Report as abusive

The only evil is the hatred in our heart. Succumb to that evil and we are all terrorists. The world had hope at the election of President Obama to lead the civilised world to forgive and steer the world to peace. That hope is vanishing fast. Before we put labels on others, do some soul searching ourselves on our own behaviour. Could we all restart with a better world by getting away from this “enemy” mindset irrespective of what happened in the past? Reset and change must come from the heart. It must not be a zero sum game. Please maintain that hope.

Posted by ExRA | Report as abusive

That’s so true Mr. Debusmann. It is time for State Department to de-list the main opposision of this brutal regime. Madame Secretary should obey the court decision sooner than later. This is what we, as Iranian people, are asking. Enough is enough. It is time for the right decision to support the Iranian people and be on their side. US, US, listen to this, we want PMOI/MEK off the list.

Posted by Mitra42 | Report as abusive

As Mr. Bernd Debusmann’s atricle points out,the price of the apeasement policy twoards Iranian Government has always been paid by Iranian peace loving people and the Terorist lable has only served the Ayatollah’s government.it’s sad that our government would still continue to look for “window of opportunity” to tame the Mollahs instead of helping Iranian People in their strugle to establish peace and democracy. There is no doubt in my mind that Iranian people and their beloved Mojahedin will prevail in their heroic strugle to bring pease and democracy to Iran.

Posted by ghodrat | Report as abusive

As Mr. Bernd Debusmann’s atricle points out,the price of the apeasement policy twoards Iranian Government has always been paid by Iranian peace loving people and the Terorist lable has only served the Ayatollah’s government.it’s sad that our government would still continue to look for “window of opportunity” to tame the Mollahs instead of helping Iranian People in their strugle to establish peace and democracy. There is no doubt in my mind that Iranian people and their beloved Mojahedin will prevail in their heroic strugle to bring pease and democracy to Iran.

Posted by ghodrat | Report as abusive

The US needs to push the reset button on Iran policy. No one wants to see another war but the idea of supporting the Iranian dissidents is a sound one. We do not need to embrace them. Just do not leash them and let them do what they are supposed to do, i.e. standing up to the tyrants who have devoured Iran and have been a patron of international terror. This is a common ground that all the sensible people could agree upon.

Posted by kramer2010 | Report as abusive

First I would like to thank MEK for hard working and inexhaustible struggle under so many years for Iranian human rights and democracy in Iran against this inhuman regime.
Thanks Mr. Bernd Debusmann for the article which contains a lot of truths.

Posted by Manocher | Report as abusive

All these MEK supporters, have you ever watched an MEK convention on television when one of the Rajavis is present? If not, then you don’t know what you are talking about. The MEK members are indeed like zombies worshiping anything the Rajavis say (I don’t know where the husband is now). So, dream on as much as you want.

Posted by Logical123 | Report as abusive

You people are just incredible. The MKO is the most despised Iranian opposition group, and rightly so. They have about as much support in Iran as the Ku Klux Klan does in America. They bombed and killed hundreds of people in the early years of the Islamic Republic, both government officials and civilians. My father was in a mosque in Tehran once; it was almost time for prayer, and an MKO member invited some people to stand on a carpet he had brought, and then left. The men who went to stand on the carpet exploded. MKO members also beat my grandfather because he was a cleric who supported Khomeini and the new regime. The MKO also killed President Rajai and Prime Minister Bahonar, as well as 72 MPs of the Islamic Republic Party. Their most treacherous act was to ally themselves with the evil Saddam Hussein to kill Iranian troops during the war. (How would you feel if a group of American citizens cooperated with Al-Qaeda?) To say that they have broad support in Iran is to say that a large portion of the Iranian population are crazed lunatics. In fact, without them, the Islamic Republic would probably end up being far more liberal, as its officials and citizens would have been in less danger in its early years.

Posted by Taha1 | Report as abusive

logical123
We are not here to like or dislike the MEK. They have advocates and of course opponents like you. But the question here is if MEK is or is not terrorist. For even the layman,the simple fact that MEK is appealing to justice system rather than advancing its agenda through intimidation and killing indicates that they are not terrorist. It is in the court room that all of the propaganda and accusations like yours prove baseless. None of the accusing governments have ever mentioned MEk’s armed activities against the Iranian regime in the past as a reason for listing because they are aware of the undefendability of the regime’s inhumane character. Instead they have sought and resorted to some weak accusations and unsubstantiated claims of wrong doing by the MEK in their countries. Therefore the listing is merely a political decision. MEK is challenging this political decision by winning the court verdicts and joining forces to reverse the listing and correct the politics about Iran.
Thanks to Mr. Debusmann for the informed and balanced article

Posted by fairman | Report as abusive

All who unwittingly support the MEK should read the following two Web sites. There is much more information on the net of a similar nature. In the second reference, it is stated (by a former member): “all people who were married, were forced to get divorced (at Camp Ashraf in Iraq), and now you can not find any married person and family in their internal relations.” In fact, they threaten to burn themselves down like David Kuresh. Here are the references:

http://www.nejatngo.org/en/post.aspx?id= 3363

http://www.nejatngo.org/en/post.aspx?id= 3346

As I said earlier, if you see them on TV, they are like mindless robots and follow whatever the Rajavis order them to do.

Posted by Logical123 | Report as abusive

Hilarious!

Spend half a century fighting communism, then move onto the Islamists, and then in the midst of all this Americans cry the merits of an ISLAMO-MARXIST TERRORIST GROUP. Yes you complete bunch of idiots, they are Islamists, Marxist and Terrorists… Remember the evil reds? Remember the evil mullahs? Remember the planes in New York? Combine the three and you have your average MEK nutbag… Nevermind the personality sect aspect.

Even funnier, you guys do realise they tried to assasinate Nixon in Tehran? Like i said, HILARIOUS!

Friggin tools the lot of you…

Posted by Life1 | Report as abusive