UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran blamed on Thursday “a terrorist sect” for accosting a senior Iranian diplomat in New York and condemned the United States for deciding to remove the group, the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), from a U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.
New York police said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was verbally abused, pushed and shoved by “anti-regime” protesters on the street as he walked a few blocks from the headquarters of the United Nations on Wednesday.
He became separated from members of his party traveling by car in a protected motorcade on Wednesday, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.
Iranian officials said the incident took place during a protest against Iran’s government organized by the Iranian dissident group MEK. The protest was near the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan.
The United States said last week the MEK would be removed from its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Mehmanparast himself on Wednesday had condemned the U.S. move on the MEK.
“There was an attack by MEK sect members on Mr. Ramin Mehmanparast,” said Alireza Miryusefi, spokesman for Iran’s U.N. mission. “MEK is going to be delisted from U.S. terrorist groups and you can expect such aggressive behavior of a terrorist sect. It would be another wrong step by the U.S. administration.”
“The responsibility of protecting all diplomats is on behalf of the government of the USA,” he said.
The New York police characterized the incident involving Mehmanparast differently. There were no arrests.
“He was verbally accosted by anti-regime protesters who apparently recognized him,” Browne said. “While there was some pushing and shoving, we are not aware of any assault involved, despite one protester’s claim to have punched the diplomat in the stomach.”
“Uniformed NYPD officers responded and escorted Mr. Mehmanparast away from the crowd and turned him over to NYPD Intelligence Divisions’ detectives, who along with the Secret Service and State Department provide security for visiting dignitaries during the U.N. General Assembly,” he said.
The MEK, also known as the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran, calls for the overthrow of Iran’s clerical leaders and fought alongside Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’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 American targets.
The U.S. decision came after years of intense lobbying by the MEK, which had seen many of its members stranded in Iraq even as the group fell out of Baghdad’s favor after Saddam’s downfall.
The United States added the MEK to its list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997. But the group has since said it renounced violence and mounted a vigorous legal and public relations campaign to have the designation dropped, including endorsements by prominent former U.S. public officials.
Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Will Dunham