* Mujahadin-e Khalq calls for overthrow of Iran's government
* Group's leader says decision a 'blow' to Tehran
* U.S. official denies star lobbyists swayed decision
By Andrew Quinn
NEW YORK, Sept 28 The U.S. State Department on
Friday formally removed the Iranian dissident group Mujahadin-e
Khalq from its official list of terrorist organizations, but
underscored serious concerns about the group which is seeking to
recast itself as an Iranian opposition force.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the decision,
effective on Friday, in view of the MEK's public renunciation of
violence, the absence of confirmed acts of terrorism by the MEK
for more than a decade, and their cooperation in the peaceful
closure of their paramilitary base in Iraq, the State Department
said in a statement.
"With today's actions, the Department does not overlook or
forget the MEK's past acts of terrorism, including its
involvement in the killing of U.S. citizens in Iran in the 1970s
and an attack on U.S. soil in 1992," the statement said.
"The Department also has serious concerns about the MEK as
an organization, particularly with regard to allegations of
abuse committed against its own members."
Clinton was in New York this week for a meeting of the U.N.
General Assembly. Iran on Thursday blamed the MEK, which it
called "a terrorist sect," for accosting a senior Iranian
diplomat in New York and condemned the U.S. decision remove the
group from the terrorism list.
The MEK's Paris-based leader Maryam Rajavi, who has sought
to rebrand the group as a potential opposition force in Iran,
welcomed the decision.
"This designation was a gift to the mullahs' (clerical)
regime, and removing it is a major blow because they understand
better than anyone else the potential of the movement to operate
and flourish in Iran," she told Reuters in an interview.
"This decision should put an end to a policy of appeasement
which has existed for the past 15 years, and it has once again
proven that wherever there is a fraction of freedom and justice
our resistance will be the victorious one."
But a senior U.S. official, briefing reporters after
Clinton's decision was announced, said Washington did not see
the group as viable opposition or democratic movement.
"We have no evidence and we have no confidence that the MEK
is an organization that can promote democratic values that we
would like to see in Iran," the official said. "They are not
part of our picture in terms of the future of Iran."
Officials said last week that Clinton had decided to remove
the MEK from the terrorism list, but the formal announcement was
made only after appropriate notification of Congress.
The U.S. decision comes after years of intense lobbying by
the MEK, which had seen many of its members stranded in Iraq as
the group fell out of Baghdad's favor after Saddam Hussein's
downfall in 2003.
The group marshalled the support of dozens of members of
Congress as well as political, government and media notables.
Public figures who have endorsed the MEK's campaign included
former CIA directors R. James Woolsey and Porter Goss, former
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, former FBI Director Louis
Freeh, and Mitchell Reiss, a former State Department official
who is a top foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney.
Prominent Democratic Party figures who have supported the
MEK have included former Pennsylvania and Vermont Governors Ed
Rendell and Howard Dean. People familiar with its activities
said that the MEK had paid generous fees to some of those who
made speeches in support of its de-listing.
A senior U.S. official dismissed suggestions that the
lobbying campaign had played a role in the group's
"These decisions are made on the merit and not made to
appease any group of lobbyists no matter how famous they are,"
the official told reporters.
"The United States government is not going to take anyone
off the list if it genuinely believes that they pose an imminent
threats, that they are going to commit terrorist acts, or that
they are somehow wedded to violence."
LEAVING CAMP ASHRAF
The United States had repeatedly said its decision on the
MEK's terrorist designation hinged partly on the group's
remaining members leaving Camp Ashraf, an Iraqi base where they
had lived for decades, and moving to a former U.S. military base
in Baghdad from which they were expected to be resettled
Officials said this month that the final large group of
dissidents had moved from Camp Ashraf to the new location,
ending a long standoff with Iraqi authorities.
The group, also known as the People's Mujahideen
Organization of Iran, calls for the overthrow of Iran's clerical
leaders and fought alongside Saddam's forces in the Iran-Iraq
war in the 1980s. It also led a guerrilla campaign against the
U.S.-backed Shah of Iran during the 1970s, including attacks on
Removal from the list means Washington will no longer block
the group's property and interests in property in the United
States and that U.S. entities may engage in transactions with
the MEK without obtaining a license.