3 Options for Hillary Clinton to Avoid and Aid the Iranian Opposition


Last Wednesday, a meeting of Friends of a Free Iran (FOFI) intergroup in the European Parliament was held in Brussels. A declaration signed by over 220 Euro MPs was unveiled regarding the plight of the Iranian opposition, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) currently living in camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq. The Euro MPs were strongly critical of the UN Envoy in Iraq, Martin Kobler, and his close cooperation with the Iranian regime. Members also discussed a historic court ruling in Washington on 1 June against the blacklisting of the PMOI in the United States, a label that is widely viewed as the main obstacle to the peaceful resettlement of these refugees in third countries.

“The US blacklist has enabled the Iraqi authorities, pushed and cajoled by their sponsors in Tehran, to psychologically torture and bully the 3200 men and women in Ashraf and to pressurise them into moving to a new location - Camp Liberty - next to Baghdad Airport,” Struan Stevenson, the President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq, said at the meeting. “More than 2,000 PMOI refugees are now crushed into an area measuring less than half a square kilometre, with dilapidated sewage systems, no facilities for the disabled and inadequate supplies of water and electricity.”

“They were persuaded to move to Camp Liberty on the pledge of the United Nations Special Representative, Martin Kobler, that this was simply a Temporary Transit Location (TTL) which would be their home for only a few weeks. Some have now been there over four months in unbearable conditions. The good name of the UN is being besmirched by their association with and apparent indifference to such blatant ill-treatment and repression. They must declare Camp Liberty as a long-term refugee facility and not a TTL and they must then insist on the full humanitarian provisions appropriate to a refugee camp.”

Mr. Stevenson was supported by veteran Spanish lawmaker, Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a senior Vice President of the European Parliament. “We are very frustrated with the way the UN envoy, Martin Kobler has been dealing with this issue. His praise for the role of the mullahs in the security of Iraq, and the reports about his meetings with the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence in Tehran over the fate of their opponents have shocked us.” “This attitude is very damaging for Mr Ban Ki-moon and for the reputation of the United Nations.”

Mr Vidal also pointed to the significance of the recent US Court of Appeals ruling in favour of the PMOI. “The Court could have said only: the State Department must decide about the blacklist. And that would have been significant. But it goes beyond that and says: If you don’t decide within four months, we - the Court - will remove the PMOI from the blacklist. So the Court is effectively saying that in their opinion the PMOI should not be on that list.” He went on to congratulate the PMOI “especially those in camps Ashraf and Liberty and inside Iranian prisons who have suffered the most from this listing.”

“It is now time for Europe and the U.S. to recognise the political coalition of National Council of Resistance of Iran as a democratic alternative to this regime,” Mr Vidal said. “The NCRI, formed in Tehran in 1981, has a secular program and strongly advocates the rights of women and minorities, rule of law, civil liberties and a nuclear-free Iran. This is the most effective way we have to confront export of terrorism and sheer violations of human rights by the mullahs and their endeavour to acquire nuclear weapons.”

The importance of this latest decision in Washington is beyond any precedent legal victories for the PMOI. First of all, the U.S. legal system has a much more limited scope of jurisdiction when foreign policy issues are involved, decisions about which are traditionally solely the responsibility of the Secretary of State. In the past 230 years of U.S. legal history, there has not been a single case where a Secretary of State is ordered to act on a demand of a foreign entity, let alone one that is labelled “terrorist” by his or her department.

Second, the United States, as the world’s number one super power, was the first state to put the PMOI on its blacklist 15 years ago to curry favor with the mullahs in Tehran. Europe and others later followed suit. So when the instigator of the PMOI’s blacklisting is told by its own court to remove the designation, that's the final nail in the coffin of the policy of appeasement vis-a-vis the Iranian regime. That policy was initiated by the West over two decades ago with the rise of the supposed “moderates” in Iran. It was based on the sheer illusion that by bashing the main organised opposition, which seeks regime change, we would encourage a gradual power shift for the moderates. The result of that fatal policy was the rise of extreme radicals and the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The court decision mocked the Obama administration’s claim that the Secretary of State has been too busy to be able to decide on the designation after 600 days. It points out the fact that Congress was fully aware of the Secretary’s demanding agenda when they gave her only 180 days to decide.  The court also makes no connection between the evacuation of PMOI members from Ashraf and the blacklist, contrary to Ms. Clinton’s insistence. 

Clinton now faces three choices:

1) Do nothing and let the court remove the designation after four months; a humiliating scenario for the State Department.

2) Decide to remove the designation before the lapse of the deadline and save face. 

3) Decide to maintain the designation, which will of course embolden Tehran to increase internal repression and to accelerate its nuclear weapons project. It can also be interpreted as a green light to the Iraqi government to launch new brutal attacks against the defenceless refugees in Ashraf and Liberty; an embarrassing situation for Obama’s foreign policy in the wake of the upcoming presidential elections.

Endless delays and foot-dragging are no longer an option.