BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union said on Wednesday it was keeping an Iranian opposition group on its list of banned terrorist movements, days before it leads major power talks with Iran over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
The People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) had called on the 27-member EU to remove it from the blacklist after the British Parliament last month upheld a court ruling that its inclusion on a list of banned groups in Britain was wrong.
The EU, in a decision slipped out without fanfare, said it saw no grounds for amending the list of 48 groups subject to asset freezes and other sanctions in Europe.
"Consequently, the Council has decided to maintain those persons, groups and entities on the list," the decision published in its Official Journal said.
The decision to keep the PMOI on the list was rubber-stamped by EU agriculture ministers who met in Brussels on Tuesday.
A French source said Paris — a key player in Iranian diplomacy and holder of the bloc’s rotating presidency — came forward with grounds for it to be maintained on the list.
The PMOI began as a leftist-Islamist opposition to the late shah of Iran but fell out with Shi’ite clerics who took power after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Western analysts say it has little support inside Iran because it joined Iraqi forces during the 1980-88 war between the two neighbors. The group, which exposed Iran’s covert nuclear program in 2002, is also banned by the United States.
Its political wing, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), has some support in Europe. A petition expressing support for the NCRI won the backing of 290 members of the French Parliament, a majority in the 577-strong lower house, one of its sponsors said on Wednesday.
Left-wing MP Jean-Pierre Brard told a news conference in Paris one of the motivations of the petition was to seek the removal of the PMOI from lists of banned groups in Europe.
EU officials said the timing of the decision was not related to efforts to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment which the West suspects is aimed at acquiring the atom bomb.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva on Saturday to discuss Iran’s response to an international offer of incentives if its halts enrichment. Iran insists its program is peaceful.
In a shift in U.S. policy which European officials see as a sign of support for the process, the United States is due to send a senior envoy to the one-day Geneva talks. Solana said on Friday he hoped for a "constructive response" from Iran.
A spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political arm of the PMOI, denounced the EU decision to keep the group on its terrorism list.
"The Iranian resistance views the futile attempt of the agriculture ministers to appease the religious fascism ruling Iran and defying the ruling of competent European courts devoid of any legal standing and in outright violation of the rule of law," Shahin Gobadi said.
"This attempt by European appeasers on the eve of the meeting of Solana with representatives of the clerical regime on the nuclear file, is nothing but an attempt to get mileage from a discredited list."
The NCRI has been active in mobilizing parliamentary support in many European countries for removing the PMOI from the terrorism list and denouncing Iran’s human rights and nuclear policies.
(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris; editing by Paul Taylor)
By David Brunnstrom and Mark John, Reuters, July 16, 2008