Iran, US, and the MEK

Monday, October 8, 2012

Abbas Maleki & Cyrus Safdari

On September 28, 2012, the Obama administration announced the removal of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh (variously referred to as the MEK, MKO, or PMOI) from the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). After the collapse of the regime of its main benefactor, Saddam Hussein, this militant group has engaged the US legislative branch and main lobby groups in Washington D. C. and has made significant contributions to various Congressmen in exchange for their expression of support and participation at MEK gathering. Removing the MEK from terrorism list opens the door to Congressional funding of the organization to continue its terrorist activities and attacks in Iran, thus also making war with Iran far more likely.

The current state of US-Iran relations are at their lowest point from 1875, when the first commercial relations between Iran and United States was established. Currently, there is no diplomatic connection between the two countries, academic exchanges are minimal, the media in each country have no access to the other and the information each nation has on the other can only be obtained indirectly and inefficiently, and so is also inevitably biased and inaccurate. Allowing the MEK to carry out its agenda of influencing US foreign policy with respect to Iran can only lead to a deepening of this crisis.

The irony of the decision to strip the MKO of its terrorist designation should be apparent when one considers the fact that since 1875, only a small number of Americans have been killed in Iran and of those, all but one were assassinated by the same MKO: In 1973, Col. L. Hawkins, a US military advisor, was killed by MEK in Tehran. In 1975, US Air Force Col. P. Shaffer and J. Turner were assassinated by MEK. In 1976, three Americans working on an electronic surveillance system (IBEX) were also killed by MEK. No American has been killed in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. And yet the MEK has an active office in Washington D.C. whilst Iran and the US have no diplomatic relations.

Legally, the delisting of the MEK was an entirely discretionary and arbitrary action by the US Secretary of State. While a Federal court judge placed a deadline on the Secretary of State to make her determination, the court had no legal role in shaping the substance of her decision to delist the MEK. The decision to delist the MEK is all the more grievous when one considers the fact that just recently, several media reports indicated that the MEK was still active in carrying out acts of terrorism in Iran, as well as against its own members, including the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. But aside from all that, it was obvious from the start that the Foreign Terrorist Organization designation was purely a legal myth which was never fully enforced. Even though the MEK was included on the same terrorist list as Al-Qaeda, MEK operatives and agents were left to freely wander the halls of Congress and recruit spokespersons for their cause for many years. It appears, therefore, that the decision to delist the MEK was not based on a consideration of the group’s agenda and practices and policies but was in fact simply a ploy intended to satiate the well-financed pressure groups which support the MEK for reasons of their own, as well as a concession to intransigent MEK members who refused to leave their base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, despite the insistence of the new Iraqi government which has long sought to eject the group due to their history of cooperation with the deposed Saddam Hussein. If the MEK continues its  activities, the US would be liable for giving safe haven to terrorists on its own soil.

It seems Washington decision-makers who supported the MEK have fallen in the trap of a cult organization without adequately checking this organization’s history and background. While it is true that US is challenging the Islamic Republic, and that the MEK is also active against Iran's government, a policy of “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is ultimately shortsighted and self-defeating. The MEK is universally detested amongst ordinary Iranians who remember well the group's alliance with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war, as well as their other atrocities. By now, the recent developments in the Middle East should have displayed clearly the close relationship between the attitudes of each society and its political reaction to the US presence in the region. The decision to delist the MEK can only lead to the further alienation of the Iranian people, and endanger America’s long-term interests in the Mideast.

That US-Iran relations have reached this current nadir we are experiencing now, where some urge bombing Iran as a smart policy choice, where something as significant as launching a war is reduced to merely "an option on the table," and where ordinary people are deliberately made suffer the effects of economic sanctions in the hopes that through sheer desperation alone they will topple the government, is itself a clear indication of the utter bankruptcy and failures of the policies adopted towards Iran until now. It is about time to stop digging this hole ever deeper. Iranian public opinion, ever nationalistic and proud, is watching carefully. Allowing the MEK to buy its way off the FTO list in such a blatant manner, amounts to a national insult, makes a lie out of US proclamations of respect for the people of Iran, and can only be seen as further proof of the fundamental hypocrisy of the US stance taken with respect to not just the government of Iran but also that nation of 80 million people.

Key Words: Iran, US, MEK, Foreign Terrorist Organizations, Congress, Al-Qaeda, Maleki, Safdari

*Abbas Maleki, Professor of Energy policy at Sharif University of Technology, Tehran
 Cyrus Safdari, Ph. D., analyst and blogger

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