|Ambassador John Bolton: If the State Department Won’t Act, The Court Should|
|Friday, 06 April 2012 00:00|
Washington D.C., April 6, 2012 - Thank you very much. It's a great pleasure to be here today with all of you. It's sad that we're on the first anniversary of the attack at Camp Ashraf. It's a brutal reminder of the danger the people at Ashraf and Camp Liberty live in. And a continuing representation and a failure of American policy.
But I do think that we are coming to potentially decisive points on a number of fronts. Number one, on the status of the MEK listed on the list of foreign terrorist organizations and on the question of the regime and Tehran's nuclear weapons program. Both absolutely critical in how they're resolved.
So I just want to take a few minutes here today to talk about that and specifically to talk a little bit about why this designation of the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization has been wrong from the outset, wrong throughout the duration of its being on the list and wrong for it to continue.
You know, this is a, as Judge Mukasey and Professor Dershowitz said, this question of listing organizations is a statutory question. It's not a question of whether you like the group, you know, we could go out on double dates with its members? Would they win an election in their home country? Do they have customs that are a little bit different from yours? If those were criteria to be listed on the list of foreign terrorist organizations, that would be a pretty long list, but it's not.
And the list, the criteria that Congress has given is very, very specific and those criteria have not been met.
I know this in part from my own personal knowledge. I think I first heard of the MEK early during the George W. Bush administration when we were concerned, among other things, about the efforts by the regime in Tehran to acquire a variety of weapons of mass destruction and specifically and in particular nuclear weapons.
As we looked at what the regime was doing, the progress it was making, the steps it was taking to conceal its effort, I read from time to time about information that came from Iranian exiles in the United States, in Europe disclosing aspects of the regime's nuclear weapons program. And that was the first time that I saw the name MEK. I didn't know what it was. That it was perhaps a profession of ignorance of history, but that's the fact.
So I was quite interested in the information that was being released over a period of time. Some of it was information that the government of the United States already knew about, but had not disclosed publicly. Some of it was information we hadn't learned about, but learned about later. Some of it was just information we didn't know about.
And I can say with considerable force that because of the importance of understanding the progress that the nuclear program is making, that all sources of information were potentially important to us and the accuracy of the information, even more so.
I never saw any information that the MEK disclosed that was in any material respect inaccurate as far as we knew. And I thought this was significant in many respects because within the U.S. Government there was a disagreement about how to deal with Iran and how much of the information that we knew about to make public. How much to share with the International Atomic Energy Agency. How much to talk about in public.
I generally felt that more public discussion was useful because the threat of nuclear weapons program in Iran was a very real one to me.
So I have to say I lost a lot of battles in the immediate administration about what to talk about publicly. I was not unhappy to see someone else making that information public so that the rest of the world could appreciate the progress the regime was making towards its long sought objection of nuclear weapons and how dangerous it was.
What I think was really striking came in the days after U.S. invasion of Iraq and part of our effort to overthrow Sadam Hussein's regime. I remember in particular one staff meeting that Secretary Powell had as the military action was underway when someone around the table said that the U.S. military had arrived at someplace called Camp Ashraf and had secured the location and was providing protection for the residents. Make sure they didn't suffer from reprises.
I said to myself, I'm not going to listen anymore just to what's being said in the newspaper. I want to find out more about what the MEK is and why this group that seems to know so much about Iran's illicit nuclear weapons program is listed as a foreign terrorist organization.
So I did what you would expect. I asked around. I asked career civil servants and diplomats. I looked into the records. And I was stunned that the uniform response was that the MEK had been put on the list of terrorist organizations in the late 1990s in the hope that it would be a signal to the regime in Tehran of the bona fides ** days of the Clinton's administration desire to open active negotiations with the government of Iran. That that was the reason. Over and over again that was the reason.
So I asked for information about the MEK. And there were facts back in the late '70s and early '80s that were pretty unappetizing, but there were no having to deal with the regime of Shah and its overthrow.
But nothing in nearly 20 years since then. Nothing that I saw during my time at the State Department that would justify listing the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization.
Then we came to find in late 2008 that Secretary Rice was given the opportunity whether to decide to de-list the MEK and she chose not to because she hoped that that would give the incoming Obama administration flexibility to deal with the government of Iran. It would be an occasion of continued interest in trying to deal with the regime.
Now, both of these decisions were political decisions. You can agree with them or disagree with them. I disagree with them. But they were political. They were not based on facts. They were not based on the criteria in the statute.
I think that does a disservice to the whole concept of having a list of foreign terrorist organizations. If you don't allow the facts to fall where they will, then the list itself is discredited.
I think this problem of politicization isn't limited to the FTO list. I felt one of the Bush Administration's worst mistakes was taking the government of North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. A government that to this day has never provided satisfaction to the government of Japan and South Korea for kidnapping their innocent civilians and holding them in North Korea. And why was North Korea taken off the list of state sponsored terrorism? In hopes of negotiating with North Korea about its nuclear weapons program. You see a pattern here?
This is the State Department making decisions not intended by Congress but for political and diplomatic purposes.
Now, it's interesting in all of these cases the political and diplomatic purpose has not been achieved. You would think that would teach people something. But I'm not that much of an optimist.
But even worse, we had seen within the past weeks Secretary Clinton say that the conduct of the MEK in transferring residents from Ashraf to Camp Liberty would be a factor in deciding whether the MEK would stay on the list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Now we have all heard she's very busy, not busy enough, though, not busy enough that she couldn't make that point. Another fundamentally political point.
So if the original designation was bad and it was, and if the decision in 2008 to continue the listing was worse, this is worst of all. This isn't just political, this is using a humanitarian catastrophe to attempt to achieve political objectives. (Applause.)
Governor Rendell just asked what I think is a very pertinent question and providing some telling insights into why there is no good answer. Why does the State Department keep doing this? What is the rationale here?
I think the rationale emerges from what we know about the State Department's history dealing with this regime. They are convinced to this day that you can negotiate with this authoritarian regime.
I believe you cannot. But I believe what's going on here is that the State Department is fearful that if it does what it's supposed to do that the government in Tehran will cut off the last chance to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the nuclear weapons program.
Now, I don't think there's any chance that we're going to get a satisfactory, diplomatic resolution anyway. But I think what's happening now is that the State Department knows it doesn't have a shred of evidence to continue this designation. If they did, and I'll steal this point from Louie freed who made it before, but not here, if there was information that justified the continuing listing of the MEK on the foreign terrorist list in Washington as we know it, it would have leaked out, we'd be reading about it. And the silence is deafening.
And it's because if the State Department can say to the regime in Tehran, we didn't take them off the list, that court made us do it, that they hope the regime will say, oh, it's okay, now we're talk to you. (Applause.)
I just find that completely irresponsible, imperfectly content to say that if there are facts to justify a listing on the FTO list, list the organization. If the organization is on a list for political purposes, or it's taken off for political purposes, that's wrong. I don't personally know any reason why the MEK should be listed and I'll guarantee you neither does the State Department or it would have presented the evidence to the court.
So the issue here turns not just on this abuse of our legal process, not just on the humanitarian tragedy that we see unfolding in Ashraf, but on our country's ability to deal effectively with the growing threat of the ayatollahs in control of the world's most dangerous weapon. And every day that goes by that we take our eye off that eventuality is a day that makes the world much less safe.
It is time, if the State Department won't act, then the court should act. I think it will. And I think hopefully in a few months we'll be back here having a very different kind of conversation. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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