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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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