BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union decided Monday to remove an Iranian opposition group from the EU's terror list and lift the restrictions on its funds. Iran condemned the decision as a promotion of terrorism, and France appealed it.
Iran's Foreign Ministry said the group's hands "are stained with the blood of thousands of Iranian and non-Iranian people," and that the EU decision demonstrated what it called the bloc's "double standards" in dealing with terrorism.
The EU move also is likely to complicate already difficult efforts by the EU, the U.S. and other nations to persuade Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions.
The decision by the 27-nation bloc's foreign ministers means that as of Tuesday, the assets of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, or PMOI, will be unfrozen. It is the first time an organization has been "de-listed" by the EU.
Millions of dollars of assets
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the Paris-based group said $9 million had been frozen in France alone, with "tens of millions of dollars" worth of assets also locked away in other EU countries.
The People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which was blacklisted by Washington in 1997, remains on the U.S. terror list.
It had been blacklisted as a terror organization by the EU since 2002, but it waged a long legal battle in the bloc's court of justice to reverse that decision. Several European Union court decisions went in the group's favor, concluding the EU had failed to properly explain why it froze the group's assets.
"What we are doing today is abiding by the decision of the court. There is nothing we can do about the decision," said Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief.
Czech European Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra said the People's Mujahedeen would not be included in the EU's latest terror list update, which includes 60 groups and individuals, such as Osama bin Laden, Hamas and al-Qaida.
He warned, however, that if new evidence comes to light linking the group to terror activities, the EU "could decide to re-include the group" on its list.
Seeking to re-list the group
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner announced that his country had appealed the de-listing of the group to the EU Court in Luxembourg on Friday. He also said France would seek to forward new information on the organization to prove that it should again be added to the list in coming months.
Kouchner refused to tell reporters why the group remains a terrorist threat.
The People's Mujahedeen, also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, is the military wing of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which is based in the French capital.
The council said it is dedicated to a democratic, secular government in Iran. However, it maintains a camp of disarmed fighters in Iraq, north of Baghdad.
Iraqi officials want camp shuttered
Iraqi officials on Saturday called for the group to shut down the camp and move to another country.
Iraq's Shiite-led government has long sought to get rid of the People's Mujahedeen, which fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. At the same time, many Iraqi Shiites fled to Shiite-dominated Iran and fought against Iraq.
The People's Mujahedeen was founded in Iran in the 1960s and helped followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrow U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
But the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq fell out with Khomeini, and thousands of its followers were killed, imprisoned or forced into exile. It launched a campaign of assassinations and bombings against Iran's government as a result.
Efforts to shed terrorist tag
The People's Mujahedeen has long tried to shed its terrorist tag, despite a series of bloody anti-Western attacks in the 1970s — and nearly 30 years of violent struggle against Iran's Islamic establishment. The group said, however, that it has renounced violence in 2001 and has not kept arms since 2003.
Maryam Rajavi, who heads the Paris-based National Council of Resistance, the group's political wing, said Monday's decision was "a crushing defeat to Europe's policy of appeasement" with Iran.
"The blacklisting of the Iranian Resistance contributed to the prolongation of the rule of religious fascism in Iran," she said in a statement. "The Iranian regime did not refrain from using all political and diplomatic pressures to maintain the PMOI on the list."
Rajavi said her group would now focus its attention on getting Washington to drop it from the U.S. terror list.
In Tehran, state television quoted Iran's Foreign Ministry statement as saying, "The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns the EU's unacceptable move and deeply deplores that the EU, in order to attain illegitimate and short-term political objectives, has distanced itself from the path of the international community in fighting terror and has chosen friendship and cooperation with terrorists."
The statement said the People's Mujahedeen — known as Monafeqin, or Hypocrites, in Iran — has never renounced violence, never given up its arms and has continued to resort to terrorism.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran strongly condemns the EU's unacceptable move and deeply deplores that the EU, in order to attain illegitimate and short-term political objectives, has distanced itself from the path of the international community in fighting terror and has chosen friendship and cooperation with terrorists," TV quoted the ministry statement as saying.
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