By Jamie Crawford
The United States warned an Iranian dissident group that it may have "over-interpreted" recent events, and should not presume its removal from the U.S. terror list is guaranteed.
The Obama administration has told Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) an orderly departure from its base Camp Ashraf inside Iraq will be a central condition to any decision regarding the group's removal from the list.
From Camp Ashraf, the residents travel by convoy under United Nations and Iraqi government auspices to a former U.S. base in Iraq where they can be processed and eventually re-settled to countries in Europe and elsewhere.
Some 2,000 MEK members have left Camp Ashraf since the process began, but none have moved since May 5. Some 1,200 to 1,400 still remain at Camp Ashraf.
"Constructive offers must be met with a constructive spirit, and not with refusals or preconditions to engage in dialogue," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a written statement. "Recent publicly declared conditions for cooperation, including calls for the Department to inspect Camp Ashraf as a precondition for further relocations to Camp Hurriya, are an unnecessary distraction."
Nuland also called on the Iraqi government to "intensify its efforts to fulfill its commitment to provide for the safety, security, and humanitarian treatment" of Camp Ashraf residents.
"The residents’ request for the US to inspect Camp Ashraf, which Ms. Victoria Nuland has described as unnecessary in her June 18 statement, is to prevent the Iraqi government and the Iranian regime’s operatives in Iraq from stage managing of finding ammunitions and explosives at Camp Ashraf once the residents leave," said Shahin Gobadi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group that supports the MEK. "For this reason, the representative of the residents of Ashraf wrote to [State Department Special Advisor on Camp Ashraf] Amb. Dan Fried on June 17, 2012 that if no inspection of Ashraf is possible, he should issue a statement as a confidence building measure. He is yet to receive [sic] a response."
MEK has waged a widespread, 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 terror list.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to make a decision by October 1, or the court would issue a so-called writ of mandamus to set aside the designation. The State Department has said it will comply with the ruling.
On a conference call with reporters Monday, a senior administration official said MEK may have "over-interpreted" the court ruling, and may believe that Clinton has no choice now but to de-list the group. The official said that belief would be "quite plainly, wrong."
Clinton "retains complete discretion on this matter," the official said. "The court has told her to deliver a decision one way or the other. They have not told her to de-list."
The administration says it is incumbent for MEK to realize that Camp Ashraf's existence is coming to a rapid close.
"The Iraqi government is committed to closing it," the official said on the call with reporters, "and any plan to wait out the government in the hope that something will change it - change its mind - is really quite dangerous."
The Iraqi government has said it would like to see Camp Ashraf closed by July 20, the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
A second senior administration official on the same call said that MEK may also have "over-interpreted" Iraqi politics and the possibility of a no-confidence vote against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as a reason to cease cooperating in the eventual closure of Camp Ashraf.
"We believe the MEK may indeed calculate that a change of government in Iraq could rebound to their advantage, and they may be able - and they might be able to stay," the second official told reporters. MEK are "gravely mistaken" to think any Iraqi government "would, in fact, allow them to remain as a paramilitary organization in Iraq," the official said. "We think that their time in Iraq is over."
The official said the push for a no-confidence vote on Maliki appears to be receding.
MEK 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 MEK 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. The group was granted refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein during and after the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
MEK supports the overthrow of the Iranian theocracy.
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 MEK and called for it to be de-listed. 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.