In recent weeks a debate has flared in Washington over whether or not Secretary of State Clinton should remove Iran’s main opposition movement, the People’s Mujahidin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), from the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations (FTO). The subject has been receiving exceptional attention in the media as we approach the anticipated decision in the next few weeks.
An outstanding group of US former officials and experts on national security as well as members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have called on Secretary Clinton to delist the PMOI. They simply argue that based on their personal experience and deep knowledge there is no evidence to link the organisation to terrorism. The unofficial bipartisan coalition which has been formed includes a diverse spectrum of the US political field. It is a reminder of what happened a few years earlier in the UK, where 35 Members of Parliament from all major political parties successfully took legal action against their own Secretary of State for Home Affairs which led to the delisting of the PMOI in the UK, since the court found the Secretary’s decision for listing the PMOI as “perverse.”
In the UK, as we approached the D day, the Iranian regime’s lobby, disguised under various pretext, intensified its activities. Their arguments were very similar to what we hear today in Washington; no arguments about the PMOI being engaged in terrorism or having capability and intent to do so, let alone any evidence. Their tactic is to create mayhem to somehow keep the opposition on the list.
While they make a lot of noise, given their lack of evidence against the PMOI, the Secretary of State has a clear case before her. She is expected to make her decision based on facts and law and not political propaganda. Given the factual and legal situation, delisting the PMOI is the most appropriate conclusion.
Let’s see what the Iranian regime lobby is arguing.
Privately, they warn about the possible serious consequences if the PMOI is removed from the FTO list. The same warning was made in the UK. The warning was so strong that the British government in an unprecedented move wrote to the Court saying if the decision is going to be in favour of the PMOI, the government would like to know in advance to take necessary measures against a possible reaction from Tehran. The request was repulsive in a democratic country. But more importantly it was a political misjudgement. The PMOI was delisted and nothing happened. Let’s not forget what encourages the mullahs to engage more in terrorism is seeing signs of weakness. Firmness is the best approach to the tyrannical regime.
The regime’s lobby accuse the Iranian opposition of all sort of things unrelated to FTO designation but aimed at tarnishing the image of the PMOI and in particular the image of the opposition leader Maryam Rajavi. Not surprisingly, she is what the Iranian regime fears most. I have personally met her and talked to her about her vision. She is a charismatic leader with a democratic vision for Iran after the mullahs, with gender equality, individual freedom, no nuclear program and good relation with the rest of the world. Her 10 point declaration can be supported by everyone in Europe and the US. No wonder the mullahs are so much against her.
They say the PMOI is not popular in Iran. So what? Even if it was true – for which there is no evidence – it has nothing to with the designation. Those making these arguments are urging Secretary Clinton to ignore the law and decide on other considerations. In short this is an invitation to curry favour with the mullahs in Iran who are responsible for the death of so many British and US soldiers in Iraq.
Secretary Clinton should keep in mind that being on the list requires certain legal criteria to be met. Deciding on the terror tag of the group is not an arbitrary or even political decision to be made as the Iranian lobby call for. Whether the group is popular or not, is a cult or not or whatever else has nothing to do with statutory criteria of a designated terrorist organisation. The PMOI can only be kept on the list if the State Department can prove that it meets the statutory criteria set by law.
Finally, Secretary Clinton should bear in mind the severe consequences of not delisting the PMOI. Not only will it damage America’s reputation for respecting the rule of law but it will have a direct impact on the lives of political prisoners in Iran and 3,400 members of the PMOI residing in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. They have already been the target of two deadly attacks, which the Iraqi government justifies by relying on the FTO designation. The consequences are traumatic. It is time to take the right decision and delist the PMOI.
Lord Clarke of Hampstead is a former Chairman of Britain’s Labour Party.