WASHINGTON, Aug. 15 (UPI) # The United States seized assets and shuttered the business offices of one of the most fanatical opponents of the Iranian government, but in the process may have alienated a recent source of intelligence on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear weapons program.
Treasury agents on Friday closed the National Press Building offices of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. The Treasury agents also notified vendors in the United States and abroad of the designation; took steps to freeze the group’s bank accounts; and delivered a cease-and-desist order to individuals associated with the organization.
The decision to target the NCRI came Friday after Secretary of State Colin Powell determined that the group was the political arm of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an organization which has been listed as a foreign terrorist organization since 1997. Under Saddam Hussein’s protection, the MEK used Iraqi soil to stage attacks on Iran throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including assassinations of leading member of Iran’s security services.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. forces reached a cease-fire with the organization in its northern Iraq enclave, temporarily allowing the group to keep its weapons. In negotiations in May between U.S. and Iranian officials, the Iranian side proposed a swap of MEK fighters for the rendition of al-Qaida operatives.
State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey told United Press International Friday that the decision to designate the NCRI as a foreign terrorist organization had no connection with U.S. policy towards Iran.
Under the Sept. 23, 2001, Executive Order created to freeze terrorist assets, the NCRI is deemed “to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.”
But a case could be made that NCRI has actually enhanced U.S. national security. Last December, the NCRI made satellite images available to the U.S. media of a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, Iran. The information turned out to be correct and earlier this year the Iranian government allowed inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the facility.
One U.S. official Friday told United Press International that much of the group’s recent intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program has beared out. “If you look at the information they have released to the public over the last year, it is very clear these people have someone on the inside.”
In November of last year, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen persuaded over 100 members of the House of Representatives to sign a letter calling on the State Department to remove the MEK from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. In an interview with The Hill, the congresswoman said, “This group loves the United States. They’re assisting us in the war on terrorism; they’re pro-U.S.”
Members of the NCRI could not be reached for comment Friday.