State Department warns of 'impasse' over moving Iranian group from Iraqi camp
Members of the Iranian militant group MeK at Camp Ashraf, Iraq
July 6th, 2012
06:43 PM ET

State Department warns of 'impasse' over moving Iranian group from Iraqi camp

By Jill Dougherty

Two senior U.S. State Department officials warned Friday that the government of Iraq and an Iranian exile group that the Iraqi government is trying to remove from its refugee camp at a military base in Iraq are at a dangerous "impasse" and the issue must be resolved soon.

Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism, told reporters in a conference call that the Iraqi government's "patience is running thin" over the refusal of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq to continue transferring to another location in Iraq.

The U.S. government has designated MEK as a terrorist group. It is committed to overthrowing the government of Iran but also has been implicated in a series of terrorist attacks, including the deaths of seven Americans in the 1970s.

Benjamin said it appears that the group has misunderstood a recent court order that requires U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, by October 1, to decide whether to remove the MEK from the terror list. The secretary has said several times that her decision would be guided, in part, by whether the group moves peacefully from Camp Ashraf to a holding facility near Baghdad as the Iraqi government is demanding.

Benjamin told reporters that the MEK appears to believe, mistakenly, that Clinton's only option is to delist the group. He said Clinton, according to the judges' order, must make her decision by October 1 but the order "did not mandate any particular result."

"The secretary of state," he said, "is within her rights in either listing, relisting or delisting. And that really is the bottom line here, and no one should be unclear about that in any way."

Trying to "wait it out," he warned would be "irresponsible and dangerous."

Cooperating and leaving Camp Ashraf, he said, would be a strong indication that the MEK "have left their violent past behind."

Ambassador Daniel Fried, special advisor to the secretary on Camp Ashraf, who also spoke with reporters, said that "it is imperative that progress be made swiftly," but added, "the situation remains precarious."

Fried described what he called "constantly shifting demands" by the MEK. Two thousand of the approximately 3,000 MEK members and their families have been relocated from the former military base, Camp Ashraf, to temporary quarters at another camp. Ultimately, the plan is for them to move from there to other countries. Twelve hundred to 1,300 remain at Camp Ashraf and are refusing to leave.

A Paris-based spokesman for the MEK took issue with the comments by the State Department officials. Shahin Gobadi, of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, told CNN the designation of the MEK as a terrorist organization “was political in nature and was designed to appease the religious dictatorship ruling Iran.”

“If the Secretary had any evidence, why has she taken 600 days without a decision?” he asked.

Gobadi listed 10 demands by the remaining residents of Camp Ashraf, including the transport of trucks, forklifts, generators and vehicles, adding “none is a luxury. It is inhumane that instead of supporting these minimums, someone would want to reject them.”

The spokesman said as soon as the 10 items are provided “all residents will relocate to Liberty.”

In the past, the Iraqi government has extended its deadline for the MEK to leave Camp Ashraf when there had been significant progress toward a deal. Fried said the United States hopes that there will be progress this time as well. The U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the State Department and the United Nations, he said, are "working hard to address as many legitimate concerns as we can."

Fried cited a demand for more air conditioning as one of the demands that appears reasonable. But a demand for private cars, he said, "strikes me as not central" to humanitarian concerns.

The Iraqi government, he said, has reaffirmed "that it wants a peaceful solution. We welcome that," he told reporters. Five convoys have successfully left the camp and, he said, "it is absolutely critical that the MEK allow the convoys to resume."

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Aaron Chaney

    Romney vs. Frankenstein (Obama)

    Put simply, better the devil you don't know. Vote Romney.

    July 9, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply
  2. farid

    State Department's statements linking the delisting of PMOI to closure of Ashraf are unreasonable and unconstructive

    The statements made by State Department's officials Daniel Benjamin and Daniel Fried on Friday evening about the terrorism label against PMOI and Ashraf residents were highly disappointing, unreasonable and unconstructive. These statements were widely welcomed by the mullahs' regime and its media.

    The U.S. government is thus linking carriage of the law and the court's decision to evacuation of Ashraf which is completely unrelated. Everyone knows that-as admitted by the U.S. government officials-the goal of the terrorism label was, since day one, to appease the totalitarian regime ruling Iran and has been continued solely for that purpose; a defeated policy that has only encouraged the Iranian regime in its pursuit of criminal policies against the Iranian people and against the international community.

    More importantly, two American ambassadors have forgotten U.S. responsibilities vis- -vis the international laws and in regards to their mutual agreement with Ashraf residents regarding their protection and are asking the residents to relocate to Liberty prison while none of their humanitarian requests is met.

    Since December 25th, that the MOU between the Government of Iraq and the United Nations was signed, the Government of Iraq has been systematically violating the MOU, but Ashraf residents, who were not a party to the MOU and did not agree to it and were not even informed of it prior to its conclusion, have been fully respecting its terms and 2,000 of them moved to Liberty in 5 groups without minimum humanitarian standards being met, and the U.S. government and the UN kept postponing the realization of these minimums to the relocation of the next convoy.

    On April 24, the State Department officially informed the residents that they will be able "to transport some utility cars and trailers for the disabled; a commitment to connect water and electrical power at Camp Liberty to Iraqi networks, with a commitment to provide water and power until that time; ability to hire up to 100 Iraqi workers to help with loading cargo at Camp Ashraf; agreement in principle to transport some generators; and progress on the sale of legal and movable property. These are all meaningful steps forward. These steps set the stage for the 5th and subsequent convoys from CampAshraf to Camp Liberty/Hurriya".

    After these preliminaries, the State Department asked the residents "to prepare for and carry out this move, which should take place at once and should be followed by other, regular moves" and added the US Government "appreciates the cooperation of the MEK thus far in the process of closing camp Ashraf; we have expressed this appreciation before and are prepared to do so again".

    Although the abovementioned written promises were not carried out, the fifth convoy was relocated to Liberty and now, 2 and a half months later, none of those promises is yet fulfilled. We announce that only after realization of the minimum humanitarian standards, the rest of Ashraf residents can be relocated to the new camp. After comprehensive talks with the representatives of the residents, U.S. and UN representatives, parliamentary groups and prominent international personalities, the following 10-points are the minimum humanitarian requirements that must be fully realized prior to further relocation of the residents.

    1. Transfer of 300 air conditioners from Ashraf to Liberty.

    2. Transfer of all the power generators that are currently in Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty. If there is any dispute about the ownership of the generators, they can be resolved in the future, under supervision of UN.

    3. Transfer of 25 trucks, containing the belongings left over from the fourth and fifth convoys and six utility vehicles about which there had already been an agreement.

    4. Transfer of five forklifts from Ashraf to Liberty for the purpose of moving the residents' belongings.

    5. Transfer of three specially-designed vehicles and six specially-designed trailers for the disabled.

    6. Transfer of 50 passenger cars from Ashraf to Liberty. It means one car for every 40 residents, which is absolutely necessary in the hot weather and for wounded and disabled residents.

    7. Permission for construction, including the building of pavements, porches, canopies, ramps, special facilities for the disabled and green areas.

    8. Connecting Liberty to Baghdad's water network. Alternatively, the residents should be permitted to hire Iraqi contractors to pump the water into Liberty from a nearby water canal and bringing their own water purification system from Ashraf.

    9. Allowing merchants or bidders access to Ashraf to negotiate and buy the movable properties as soon as possible and to make advanced payment and start making partial payments to the residents before the resumption of the relocation of the next convoy.

    10. Start of negotiations between the residents and their financial representatives and the Iraqi Government to sell the immovable assets and properties, or negotiations with third parties (Iraqi Government should provide permission) to sign the necessary agreements. Partial payments should be made before the relocation. At least 200 residents would remain at Ashraf to maintain and upkeep the properties until they are sold in their entirety.

    Although the above items do not include many pressing and necessary needs of the residents, they have agreed to completely move to Liberty after the realization of these points, and we think this is the maximum flexibility that they could show. It is now the time for the U.S., the UN and the Government of Iraq to render their duties. We call on the international community, parliaments, defenders of human rights, civil rights activists and jurists to support these minimum demands. The international community is facing a major test.

    We would like to emphasize that several important and basic issues such as designation of Camp Liberty as a refugee camp, inspection of camp Ashraf by U.S. forces, and commitment by the UN Secretary General's Special Representative to refrain from giving any roles whatsoever to the Iranian regime to intervene in the destiny of Ashraf residents are important issues that cannot be ignored and are necessary for the security and safety of the residents of Ashraf and Liberty and we will do all that we can to materialize them with the UN, the European Union, the U.S. Government, the parliaments and the public opinion.

    July 8, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply
  3. Reza from Iran

    Why are US and Iranian regime in a front against the Iranian opposition group?What is meant?Why united states government insists to list the iranian freedom fighters in FTO list?

    July 7, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply

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