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, a move likely to further damage relations strained over Tehran's nuclear program.
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.
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the group said $9 million (euro7 million) had been frozen in France alone, with "tens of millions of dollars" worth of assets also locked away in other EU countries.
The group had been blacklisted as a terror organization by the EU since 2002, but waged a long legal battle in the EU's court of justice to reverse that decision. Several EU court decisions went in the group's favor, concluding the EU had failed to properly explain why it froze the assets of the Paris-based group.
"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.
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 Paris. The council said it is dedicated to a democratic, secular government in Iran.
It 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.
The PMOI 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, it has renounced violence in 2001 and hasn't kept any arms since 2003.
Maryam Rajavi, who heads the Paris-based National Council of Resistance, the political wing of the PMOI, 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 the United States to drop the PMOI from its terror list.
Mohammad Safaei, a spokesman at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels, said he could not comment on the decision because it had not yet been officially relayed to Tehran.
The court-mandated move is likely to complicate difficult ties with Tehran just as the EU is trying to negotiate over Iran's nuclear program. The EU and the United States fear Iran is building atomic weapons.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband appealed to Iran to return to talks with European nations and the United States over its nuclear program.
"During 2009 there will and should be significant focus on this issue," Miliband said.
The group has been on the U.S. State Department's terror list since the mid-1990s.
The group had established a camp for about 3,500 members in Iraq, which its forces used to launch cross-border attacks into Iran. After U.S.-led forces overthrew Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, American troops removed the Iranian group's weapons and confined its fighters to the camp.