By Jamie Crawford
A federal appeals court has ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make a prompt decision on whether to remove an Iranian dissident group from the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia gave Clinton four months from Friday to deny or grant Mujahedeen-e-Khalq's request for removal from the list, or the court would issue a so-called writ of mandamus and remove the group itself.
"We have been given no sufficient reason why the secretary, in the last 600 days, has not been able to make a decision which the Congress gave her only 180 days to make," the court said in its ruling. "If she fails to take action within that (four month) period, the petition for a writ of mandamus setting aside the (foreign terrorist organization) designation will be granted."
The State Department had argued for an open-ended decision-making process.
MEK has waged a widespread and well-publicized campaign for enforcement of a 2010 ruling by a federal court ordering the State Department to review the group's status on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list. In that ruling, the court gave the State Department 180 days to review the request from MEK to be removed from the list.
The MEK appealed for the writ to compel the State Department to make a decision in a timely manner.
At the time, the State Department told the court the determination required "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 group has been on the terror list since 1997 because of the deaths of Americans during the 1970s. The group was granted refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. The MEK supports the overthrow of the Iranian theocracy.
Maryam Rajavi, the MEK's Paris-based leader, issued a statement to CNN saying that the ruling "demonstrated that maintaining the terrorist designation on the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is absolutely illegitimate and unlawful, and is guided by ulterior political motives."
The State Department issued a statement Friday afternoon saying it "intends to comply" with the court's opinion, but noting that "We continue to review MEK's designation."
"Our review includes all relevant materials, including extensive materials provided by counsel to the MEK. At the conclusion of the review, the secretary will make a decision regarding the designation.
"As the secretary has stated previously, given the ongoing efforts to relocate the residents of Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya, MEK cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf, the MEK's main paramilitary base, will be a key factor in her decision."
-CNN's Bill Mears contributed to this report