WASHINGTON — Rarely in the annals of lobbying in the capital has so obscure a cause attracted so stellar a group of supporters: former directors of the CIA and the FBI, retired generals and famous politicians of both parties.
The Iranian opposition group that attracted that A-list of Washington backers, many of them generously compensated for speeches, learned Friday that it had achieved its goal: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to remove the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations.
The decision removes a shadow from the Mujahedeen Khalq, known as the MEK, which lost a brutal power struggle with supporters of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the first years after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and then relocated to Iraq. Scorned by many Iranians as a cult and for its long alliance with Saddam Hussein, the group nonetheless has been promoted by some conservative U.S. politicians as offering a democratic alternative for Iran’s future.
The decision by Clinton was based in part on the recent cooperation of the group in completing a move of more than 3,000 of its members from its longtime location in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, said two officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in advance of an official announcement. A final convoy of 680 people from Ashraf arrived at the former site of Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport, on Sunday.
The group’s lawyers had challenged the terrorist listing in court, and Clinton faced an Oct. 1 deadline to make a decision.
Many of the group’s U.S. supporters, though not all, accepted fees of $15,000 to $30,000 to give speeches to the group, as well as travel expenses to attend MEK rallies in Paris.
“Yes, I was paid to speak at certain events," said Philip Crowley, who served as an assistant secretary of state from 2009 to 2011. “But what drove me was the humanitarian issue of getting them safely out of Iraq and the strategic importance of Iran for the United States."
The terrorist label imposed in 1997, the supporters said, was outdated and might be interpreted as a green light by Iraqis or Iranian agents to attack the group. The group did commit terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, first against the government of the shah of Iran and later against the clerics who overthrew him, and several Americans were among those killed.