State Department officials have announced that Hillary Clinton is moving toward taking the Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MEK, off the list of foreign terrorist organizations. The secretary of state has already delayed her decision to review the MEK's status for almost two years, even though congressional rules maintain the process should take 180 days. But now, according to reports, Clinton may make her final decision on the MEK's status within 60 days after the group’s last member is relocated in Iraq, from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty. The question is whether that’s going to give MEK members time enough to find refuge, or rather an opportunity for the Islamic Republic of Iran to round them up.
Some reports have suggested that delisting the MEK will anger the Iranian regime, which perceives the MEK as a fratricidal enemy, and throw another wrench into negotiations over Tehran’s nascent nuclear weapons program. And yet the Obama administration is in this jam precisely because of U.S. policymakers’ long record of self-deception when it comes to dealing with the IRI.
The Clinton administration listed the MEK in 1997 as a concession to the newly elected president Mohammad Khatami, even though the organization had not committed an act of anti-American terror since the mid-70s. Not surprisingly, the Clinton administration got nothing for its efforts. Nonetheless, Condoleezza Rice continued the charade when she refused to delist the MEK in fear of getting the Iranians angry enough to take it out on the American servicemen they were already targeting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In trying to make Iran happy by listing the MEK, all Washington policymakers did was tangle up the U.S. court system, and further confuse American Middle East policy. Moreover, it puts the United States in the position of once again going back on its word—this time to a population to which it granted protected person status during the occupation of Iraq.
Clinton has repeatedly said that a “key factor” in her decision on the MEK’s designation will be whether or not it cooperates in its relocation to Camp Liberty. But as court paper filed on behalf of the MEK note, this has nothing to do with the relevant statutes. Groups are not listed as FTOs on account of their willingness to move from one refugee camp to another. FTOs are designated when they represent a threat to the national security of the United States, or are still in the committing terrorist operations or have the capacity to do so. The MEK, which disarmed at Camp Ashraf in 2003, fits neither of those descriptions. But if the Obama administration has evidence that the MEK is still in the terrorism business then it should make that known.
Without lifting the FTO designation, the United States cannot accept MEK members as refugees, nor encourage its allies in the region and Europe to do so. The result is that the MEK is stuck in Iraq and, with Washington having lifted its protection in 2009, at the mercy of Iran and the Iraqis now doing Tehran’s bidding, like Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
As the American officer in charge of disarming the MEK, (Ret.) Brig. Gen. David Phillips, told me earlier this month, the point of moving the MEK from Ashraf to Liberty was to separate the members from their sources of communication. “Cellphones, anything they use to communicate with, the Iraqi security forces are taking away from them. It’s cutting them off from the world.”
Phillips and others fear that the Iranians are waiting for all of the MEK leadership to be moved to Liberty before they start “disappearing” people. “If I know Maliki,” said Phillips, referring to Iraq’s prime minister, “he’ll put them on buses and hand them over to the [Iranian] Qods Force.”
Unless the Obama administration is still hoping for concessions from the Iranians, it is unclear why Clinton is taking so long to make the decision.