Bloomberg: France urged a European Union court to keep an Iranian anti-government group on the bloc’s list of terrorist organizations, opposing a toughening of EU policy toward Iran before President Barack Obama outlines plans for U.S. engagement.
By Stephanie Bodoni and James G. Neuger
Jan. 23 (Bloomberg) — France urged a European Union court to keep an Iranian anti-government group on the bloc’s list of terrorist organizations, opposing a toughening of EU policy toward Iran before President Barack Obama outlines plans for U.S. engagement.
France appealed an EU court order to let the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran operate freely, and left unclear whether it will use its veto on Jan. 26 to block a recommendation that the group be taken off the banned list.
France will strive for an EU “common position,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux told reporters in Paris today. He defended the bloc’s 2002 decision to outlaw the People’s Mujahedeen as “respectful of the law.”
A relaxation of restrictions on the exile group may inflame tensions between Europe and Iran’s clerical leadership, just as Obama considers restoring U.S. ties with Iran, a country cold- shouldered by successive American governments since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
EU government representatives yesterday recommended bowing to three court orders to take the group off the terror list, EU officials said. Iran responded with a letter urging EU foreign ministers to reject that recommendation at the Jan. 26 meeting, an EU official said on condition of anonymity because the letter isn’t public.
The EU has taken a twin-track approach to Iran, offering closer economic ties while pursuing United Nations sanctions against the nuclear program.
“It’s unlikely that the overall strategy toward Iran is going to change,” said Shada Islam, an analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels. “Obviously they’re looking anxiously toward Washington to see how Obama is going to keep his promises of engaging with Iran.”
The People’s Mujahedeen, formed in 1965 to resist the Shah, says the EU banned it as a concession to the Iranian government, at a time when the EU and U.S. are trying to dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.
The U.S. also rates the People’s Mujahedeen as a terrorist entity. The group says it renounced military activity in June 2001, a year before the French and British governments persuaded the EU to blacklist it and freeze its assets.
The group was the first to call international attention to Iran’s uranium enrichment program, in 2002. It says the theocratic regime in Tehran has executed 120,000 of its members in the past three decades.
The People’s Mujahedeen is part of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella organization that styles itself as an Iranian parliament-in-exile. Ending the EU ban would be “a necessary and positive step, although overdue,” Maryam Rajavi, head of the resistance council, said in a statement today.
The EU’s deliberations coincide with Obama’s planned overhaul of U.S. strategy toward Iran. While backing the Bush administration’s aims of preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons, Obama has promised a different approach, relying more on diplomacy.
With an eye to countries like Iran now in U.S. disfavor, Obama said in his inaugural address on Jan. 20 that his government would “extend a hand” to any foe willing to “unclench your fist.”
EU officials said the delisting — if France accepts it — will be explained as a response to rulings by the European supreme court, not a politically motivated effort to foment resistance inside Iran.
From 2006 to 2008 the court ordered EU governments three times to take the group off the proscribed list. In a December ruling, the court called EU delaying tactics “manifestly inadmissible.”
The court issued its rulings on procedural grounds, saying EU governments failed to give the group the opportunity to defend itself. It may take the Luxembourg-based court a year or more to rule on France’s appeal.