TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's top leader said Wednesday that by striking a cease-fire with an Iranian opposition group, the United States was demonstrating it believed the only bad terrorists were those who were not its "servants."
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told state-run Tehran Radio that the United States and the world had recognized the Mujahedeen Khalq as terrorists. "Now, America supports them. It shows terrorism is bad if terrorists are not America's servants," he said.
"But if terrorists become America's servants, then they are not bad. It's a test, showing how America ridicules fighting terrorism and democracy," Khamenei said.
The United States signed a truce on April 15 with the Iraq-based Mujahedeen Khalq, also known as the People's Mujahedeen, allowing the group to keep its weapons to defend itself against Iranian-backed attacks.
The State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, Cofer Black, described the agreement Wednesday as "a prelude to the group's surrender.
"This is a pretty special group," he said in Washington. "They're a foreign terrorist organization. They are not well liked in Iraq. They could not be put with a general prisoner population. They are following the orders of the coalition commanders, and their situation will be addressed in the coming days and weeks."
In the past, the United States called the Mujahedeen Khalq a terrorist organization. During the 1970s, the group was accused in attacks that killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Iran. It reportedly backed the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 but later broke with Iran's clerical government.
The group denies involvement in the killing of U.S. servicemen and the embassy seizure.
The cease-fire appears to be a way for the United States to increase pressure on Iran, which Washington has accused of meddling in Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.
But it represents a conundrum for the United States, which went to war against Iraq in part to dismantle what it said were terrorist networks supported by Saddam.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday the U.S. goal remained an Iraq "free of all terrorist organizations." He said the cease-fire deal was "part of the ongoing immediate post-combat effort to enhance security on the ground."
The cease-fire allows the Mujahedeen Khalq to use military force against what the United States says are Iranian infiltrators entering Iraq, such as the Badr Brigade.
The brigade is the military wing of an Iranian-based anti-Saddam group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group that includes the Mujahedeen, says members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard have crossed into Iraq and fought Mujahedeen fighters in recent weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, the council said two clashes Tuesday in Iraq resulted in the wounding of two of its fighters and the killing of three attackers linked to the Iranian government.
Iran has denied the reports, but the U.S. cease-fire with the Mujahedeen Khalq seems an implicit acknowledgment of such fighting.
The Mujahedeen Khalq's military activities have diminished in recent years. In early April, Iran officially announced an amnesty for the rank-and-file members of the group, which numbers up to 15,000.