In recent months, with anticipation of a decision by Secretary Hillary Clinton about the lifting of the unfounded terrorist designation from Iran’s democratic opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a number of former senior officials of the State Department, from both Republican and Democratic administrations, have gone on the record to call for an objective review of the designation based on facts and devoid of customary ill-advised foreign policy considerations designed to send conciliatory signals to Tehran.
John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, stated during a recent conference that “I didn’t see anything when I was in the government that justified them [MEK] being on the [FTO] list. We’ve had very senior officials in our American intelligence and counter-terrorism activities that have talked about the work they’ve done with the MEK. We have repeated testimonials by senior American military officials during the days of the American military presence in Iraq … who have talked about their cooperation and the renunciation of terrorism, the disarming of Camp Ashraf and the work that was done to help the United States during that period.”
Back in September, Ambassador Bolton explained why, despite the abundance of evidence and facts to delist, the previous administration decided to maintain the MEK on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). He said “We have seen in recent years that opinion within the U.S. government has tended towards delisting the MEK, but at the end of the Bush administration Secretary Rice decided not to do that for essentially the same reason that the Clinton administration put the group on the list to begin with: to open channels of communication with Iran.”
Among the most significant views about the FTO designation of the MEK are comments made by Ambassador Dell Dailey, Coordinator for Counterterrorism of the State Department in the last two years of the previous administration. He was the official with full access to MEK’s “terrorism” file and yet he could not find any justification of the group’s continued FTO listing.
In 2008, he recommended the MEK be removed from the FTO list based on absence of any evidence to meet the statuary criteria. Secretary Rice, however, overruled that decision.
Last March, Mr. Dailey reiterated his recommendation and said “It is essential that Secretary Clinton . . . revoke the designation and delist the MEK. It is within her ability to do that right now… Delist the MEK from the foreign terror organization list and let the Iranian citizens decide their own form of government.”
Mitchell Reiss, former Director of Policy Planning in the Department of State, has spoken about the bi-partisan and multi-discipline nature of the growing support among senior national security and policy figures for the removal of the MEK from the FTO list.
He told a panel recently that “Whatever our political affiliation, it has no bearing today, as we are unified shoulder to shoulder in our effort to help right this wrong, to de-list the MEK and to help the people at Camp Ashraf.” He added that “The fight being waged to de-list the MEK, the fight to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf… is America’s fight as well. Both our interests and our values are inextricably linked in this case.”
Former senior State Department officials from other administrations have also urged the MEK’s delisting. Bill Richardson, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, has noted that “I sense this momentum with what’s happening in the Middle East, what’s happening in Iran, the repressive nature of the regime responding to the protesters. First, is the delisting [of the MEK] and we should do something about [the protection] of Camp Ashraf. This is a movement that doesn’t want any money. This is a movement that doesn’t want weapons.”
Stuart Eizenstat, former US Ambassador to the European Union and Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, has stressed on the importance of strengthening democratic oppositions and addressed the issue of MEK’s blacklisting in his recent remarks. He said “The State Department is going through their process as the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia required them to do and I hope as they do so, they will expedite their decision and that they will reflect on the fact that the UK and the EU, to which I was an Ambassador, have both lifted their restrictions with respect to the MEK.”
Nancy Soderberg, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, in her remarks earlier this year about the April 2011 massacre of MEK members in Camp Ashraf, said “The government of Iraq absolutely must stand by its obligation to protect those in [Camp Ashraf] and U.S. must push it harder to do so.”
As for the need to review the MEK’s FTO designation based on facts and legal requirements, Ambassador Soderberg has been optimistic that “I am confident the Obama administration’s current review will be decided on the merits. Having spoken to a variety of people in the administration, I do think this will be decided on the facts.” Such a belatedly fresh approach by the administration toward the MEK’s FTO status, should guarantee the group’s removal from the terror list.
Dr. Philip Zelikow, Former Counselor of the States Department and Secretary Rice, and Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, stated back in April that “What would I recommend to the Secretary [Clinton] were I in my old job today? I would say: here is a four-part proposal of what you could do: Part one. Delist the MEK as an FTO.”
The consensus among these former officials of the State Department has extended beyond this circle and now many other national security and policy figures as well as subject matter experts have joined the US Congress to urge Secretary Clinton to end the MEK’s blacklisting. It is passed time to do so.
Amir Naderi is a Washington-based research analyst with focus on US-Iran relationship.