U.S. urges court to stay out of decision on Iranian group

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 26, 2012 7:36pm EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Monday urged a U.S. appeals court not to interfere with its review and decision-making process over whether to remove the Iranian dissident group Mujahadin-e Khalq from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

The group asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to order the State Department to either remove it from the list or require action within a specified period on its request to delist the group.

The State Department urged the court to stay out of the matter, saying it was continuing to evaluate the matter, consulting with the intelligence community and other government agencies and that it had met with representatives of the Mujahadin-e Khalq.

Further, in its reply to the appeals court, the department repeated what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last month to U.S. lawmakers: that they were closely watching the group's cooperation in closing its Camp Ashraf base in Iraq.

The group, which calls for the overthrow of Iran's Islamist government, has been based in Iraq. It was supported by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, but is no longer welcome in Iraq under the Shi'ite-led government that came to power following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and Saddam's downfall.

The Iraqi government plans to expel the residents of Camp Ashraf and is in the process of moving them to a processing center at a former U.S. military base in Baghdad.

Camp residents, who numbered about 3,000 and had been under the protection of the U.S. forces since 2003, agreed to be moved last month. U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in December.

Also known as the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran, the group led a guerilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran during the 1970s that included attacks on U.S. targets.

As a result, the United States placed it on its list of foreign terrorist organizations. The group has said that it has renounced violence.

BAN ON FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Americans are banned from providing financial and other support to any group included on the so-called "Foreign Terrorist Organization" list, and its members or representatives are banned from entering the United States.

Representatives for the group, which has also received support from several former senior U.S. government officials, had urged the court to intervene and force the administration to act or take the step itself of removing the group from the list.

"Such relief would - despite the PMOI's long history of terrorism - remove an important barrier to the PMOI's ability to operate freely in the United States, and is clearly unwarranted here," the State Department told the court.

"Moreover, an order directing the Secretary to act by a particular date is also inappropriate given the highly complex and delicate overall nature of the matter pending before her," it said.

The State Department also warned that court action "would seriously interfere" with its efforts to resolve the Camp Ashraf situation.

A lawyer for Iranian opposition group, Viet Dinh, said that they would respond by the April 2 deadline set by the court.

"The important thing to recognize from the brief is that the Secretary recognizes her responsibility to delist the PMOI if it does not meet the statutory criteria, and she does not have any discretion to keep the group on the list simply out of national security concerns," he told Reuters.

The appeals court has deferred a decision on whether it will hear oral arguments in the matter.

The case is In re: People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, No. 12-1118.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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