By Jill Dougherty
The State Department is asking a U.S. appeals court to deny a suit that would force Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to decide, within 30 days, whether to remove an Iranian opposition group from the U.S. list of foreign terror organizations.
The group, the Mujahadin-e Khalq, was placed on the terror list in 1997 because of the deaths of Americans during attacks in the 1970s against the U.S.-backed shah of Iran. The U.S. says the M.E.K. engaged for years in terrorist activities in Iran launched from bases in Iraq, including assassinations of high-level Iranian officials and attacks in Iran with heavy weaponry. In the 1980s, the M.E.K. supported Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. Later, it vowed to disarm. Since 2003 the group has been living under U.S. protection on a former U.S. military base in northern Iraq, Camp Ashraf.
The Iraqi government is in the process of moving the residents from Camp Ashraf to another location in Iraq. Clinton has said the way that transfer is carried out could influence whether the group is removed from the terror list. A number of residents have objected to the move.
In its statement to the court, the State Department said the review of the M.E.K. requires "close analysis of highly classified information ... expert judgments about the continuing capabilities and intentions of a currently designated foreign terrorist organization ... extremely sensitive national security judgments and difficult decisions concerning the best way to avoid possible serious human rights violations."
The secretary of state, it said, has to "direct her full attention to emergencies of the highest magnitude, involving the United States and its allies throughout the globe."
"Any interference by a court with the Secretary's ability to carry out these absolutely critical duties would set a seriously troubling precedent."
The terrorist designation prohibits Americans from providing material support to the organization, but a number of high-profile former U.S. officials have taken up the cause of the M.E.K. and called for it to be delisted. Some of them have received speaking fees for that support. The Treasury Department currently is issuing subpoenas to some speakers' bureaus for information on the source of those funds.