A top foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s Presidential campaign has actively lobbied on behalf of the Iranian terrorist group – the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK)- in recent months. The MeK is currently trying to get taken off the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
As I noted in an earlier post, Mitchell Reiss- formerly the director of policy planning in the State Department and currently President of Washington College- is serving as a top foreign policy adviser to the Romney campaign. Reiss previously served in this role during Romney’s unsuccessful Presidential run in 2008.
Last week Slate Magazine reported that Reiss has also recently lobbied on behalf of the MeK’s campaign to pressure the Obama administration to take it off the State Department’s foreign terrorist list. The article recounts Reiss’s activities on behalf of the MeK as follows:
In January he spoke at a conference organized by ExecutiveAction, a D.C.-based “problem solving company” that has spearheaded the campaign to delist the MEK. He also moderated a second, similar MEK event in April at the Capital Hilton in Washington and moderated yet another in July at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel.
The MeK is an Iranian terrorist group which adheres to an ideology that blends elements of Marxism and Islam. Some with firsthand experience with the group-which is currently based in Iraq-have described it as “cult-like” organization. The MeK played a leading role in overthrowing the Shah of Iran in 1979, which brought the current Iranian regime to power. In this effort to depose the Shah the group carried out a number of terrorist attacks on American property in Iran resulting in the death of American citizens during the late 1970’s.
After the Shah had fled Iran, the MeK engaged in a bitter power struggle with the Iranian Clergy led by Ayatollah Khomeini to determine who would control the future of Iran. Khomeini’s stronger organization and greater support among the Iranian population forced the MeK to once again turn to terrorism to advance its cause. Consequentially, during the 1980’s the MeK bombed a number of Iranian civilian targets and waged an assassination campaign against the Clergy who had taken the control of the Iranian government. The group also allied itself with Saddam Hussein during the Iraqi dictator’s war with Iran from 1980-1988, which resulted in the death of between 500,000 and one million Iranian citizens. The MeK’s alliance with Saddam, along with its continued periodic terrorist attacks in Iran ever since, has left it with virtually no support among the Iranian population.
Most of the members of the group are currently based in Iraq while its leadership is located in Paris. Although it publically renounced terrorism in 2001, a 2004 FBI report found that it still engaged in terrorist attacks. Most recently, the MeK is suspected of being involved in a string of assassinations against Iranian scientists connected to the nuclear program. The political arm of the MeK- the National Council of Resistance of Iran- has long been active in lobbying efforts in Washington, especially on Capitol Hill.
Although the MeK adamantly opposes the current Iranian regime, its use of terrorism led the Clinton administration to include the group as a foreign terrorist organization in the State Department’s 1997 list, as part of a broader engagement strategy towards Iran that took place after the election of Reformist Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. As Clinton’s National Security Council staffer in charge of Iraq and Iran later wrote (pg. 321), “adding the MeK to the terrorism list was perfectly defensible from a factual point of view…. However, senior administration officials told the press that it [also] was intended as a goodwill gesture to Iran and its newly elected president.” Thus, although Clinton’s engagement failed to break the impasse between Washington and Tehran, the Bush and Obama administrations’ have continued to include the MeK on the State Department’s annual list.
In the past year, however, the MeK has run a multi-million dollar lobbying campaign to pressure the Obama administration to take it off the terrorist list. To bolster its case, the group has enlisted former government officials and prominent members of Washington’s foreign policy elite, often at great cost. Besides Reiss, notable figures who have participated in the MeK’s lobbying effort include: former Obama National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones, retired General Anthony Zinni, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former New Mexico Governor, U.N. Ambassador and one-time presidential candidate Bill Richardson, former Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, to name a few.
Just last Friday the MeK convened a gathering of hundreds of people outside the State Department to press its case for removal. Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a relative of the late President, was the keynote speaker at the event. Some evidence suggests that the MeK bused in homeless people from New York City for the event, in order to create the impression that they enjoyed more support than is actually the case.
Both the Romney campaign and Reiss personally declined to comment for the Slate article.