WASHINGTON — The State Department has decided to keep Iran’s largest opposition group, Mujahedin e-Khalq, on its list of terrorist organizations, according to U.S. officials.
The decision, which could set up a legal battle in the U.S., came before the European Union on Monday removed Mujahedin e-Khalq, or the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, from its own roster of terrorist groups.
Some Middle East analysts say the State Department’s Jan. 7 ruling could assist President Barack Obama in efforts to hold direct negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.
In Brussels, the Iranian opposition group pursued the same dual strategy of lobbying and legal action within the EU that last year succeeded in removing it from the United Kingdom’s terrorist-group list.
In 2008, Britain’s government lost a long-running legal battle to keep MEK on its list of terrorists after a London court found the government had "no reliable evidence" on which to base a finding that MEK continued to be a terrorist group or intended to commit terrorist acts. MEK waged another court battle in the EU to be removed from the roster of terrorist groups.
The MEK is pursuing similar legal and lobbying campaigns in Washington. An MEK official said the organization plans to appeal the State Department ruling in a U.S. court by Feb. 11.
The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, reaffirmed Monday that Washington is seeking "direct diplomacy" with Iran as it pushes for an end to Tehran’s nuclear program.
The State Department’s ruling was approved by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. U.S. officials said Monday they didn’t expect another review of the MEK’s status soon under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Iran’s spokesman at the United Nations, Mir Mohammad Mohammadi, assailed the EU’s removal of MEK from its list of terrorist organizations.
Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said, "What we are doing today is abiding by the decision of the court," according to wire services.
The U.S. has charged the MEK with assassinating senior Iranian officials and bombing overseas Iranian missions.
MEK leaders say the group has renounced violence and is working to promote a democratic Iran. It says the U.S. is using the terrorism designation as a political tool to spur negotiations with Tehran.
"The most important part of a changed policy in the U.S. is to set aside the appeasement of the mullahs and taking the terror label off" the MEK, said Maryam Rajavi, the organization’s leader.
Write to Jay Solomon at [email protected]
By JAY SOLOMON, Wall Street Journal,JANUARY 26, 2009