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U.S. Reportedly To Remove Exiled Iranian Group From Blacklist

Source: RFE/RL

U.S. officials say Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will tell Congress she intends to remove the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, also MEK) from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

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News agencies quoted unnamed senior U.S. officials as saying Clinton was expected to notify Congress of her decision as early as September 21. A court gave Clinton until October 1 to decide.

The U.S. State Department confirmed to RFE/RL that Clinton sent a classified communication to Congress regarding the designation of the group.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said a formal decision would be announced "sometime before October 1."

The MKO says it welcomes the expected removal from the U.S. list. A spokesman for the Paris-based group, Afchine Alavi, said the move would help boost the fight against Islamic "fascism."

The MKO, or the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, was involved in a series of deadly attacks in the 1970s and 1980s against the shah's regime and later against the clerical establishment. Its members fought alongside former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein's forces in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

The MKO has been on the U.S. blacklist since 1997.

The group, which surrendered its weapons to U.S. forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, says it has renounced violence.

To rehabilitate its image, it has carried on an extensive lobbying campaign for years -- enlisting dozens of high-profile U.S. politicians and former U.S. intelligence and military officials to support the lifting of the U.S. terror designation.

Many of those supporters accepted payments of several thousand dollars in exchange for giving speeches to the group.

The U.S. decision came after the group completed its agreement to move more than 3,000 of its members out of the camp in Iraq where they have long been based. A convoy of the final 680 residents of Camp Ashraf arrived at the U.S.-run Camp Liberty near Baghdad on September 16.

Move Opposed By Tehran, Many Iranians

Analysts say the MKO's removal from the U.S. terror list will almost certainly raise tensions between Washington and Tehran, which considers the group a terrorist organization.

"Regardless of whether the MEK should have been taken off the list or not, Tehran will see it as a hostile move," said Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst at the Washington-based Rand Corporation.

"Nevertheless, it won't come as a real surprise to the Islamic republic and the consequences may not be as grave as some would assume. After all, U.S.-Iranian relations are at a low point anyhow."

Alireza Miryousefi, a spokesman for the Iranian mission at the United Nations in New York, reacted to the news by telling the "The Wall Street Journal," "This is another wrong step by the U.S. administration."

Tehran-based political analyst Nejat Bahrami told RFE/RL that the decision was also likely to trigger strong resentment among many Iranians, who are still angry that the MKO sided with Iraq during the bloody war with Iran.

"This decision comes at a time when Iranian people are remembering the anniversary of Iraq's attack against Iran -- for many this day is the beginning of the eight years of resistance of the Iranian people against the attack of another country," Bahrami said.

"During the war, the Mujahedin-e Khalq sided like traitors with Saddam Hussein. Therefore the decision [to delist them] could be a severe psychological blow to the people of Iran."

Bahrami added that the Iranian establishment was also likely to use the move for increased anti-U.S. propaganda.

One Tehran-based opposition activist condemned the decision. "All I can say is that this is a very regretful move," he said. "Iran is to blame for creating tensions that leads the U.S. to make such a decision. The U.S. is also to be blamed for using such a hated group to raise pressure on Iran."

The United Nations plans to interview the remaining MKO members before helping them resettle in third countries.

With reporting by RFE/RL Washington correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari, CNN, Reuters, AP, AFP, "The Wall Street Journal," and "The New York Times"

Copyright (c) 2012 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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