MKO paying U.S. figures as advocates

July 31, 2011 - 16:0
WASHINGTON - An anti-Iranian group is spending millions of dollars in a lobbying effort to be removed from the United States’ list of foreign terrorist organizations, recruiting a group of U.S. national security luminaries to be its advocates, the Financial Times reported in the July 29 edition of the newspaper.

Dozens of former officials across the political spectrum -- from conservative John Bolton to liberal Howard Dean -- have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak at events organized by supporters of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO) in the U.S., the Financial Times has learnt.

Washington designated the MKO as a terrorist organization in 1997. But the group says it renounced terrorism in 2001 and has appealed to be taken off the list. 

The group has also hired Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, a lobbying firm, to persuade members of Congress to support its cause and has taken out several $100,000-plus newspaper advertisements. The Department of State is due to make a ruling next month.

To help advance its cause, groups linked to the MKO have recruited more than 40 former officials to speak on their behalf. They include Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor; Jim Jones, President Barack Obama’s first national security adviser; Wesley Clark, the retired army general; and Tom Ridge, the first homeland security secretary.

One Iran analyst, Trita Parsi, has dubbed the group “Washington’s favorite terrorists”.

Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic chairman of the House foreign relations committee, and Michael Mukasey, attorney general in the last Bush administration, both told the FT they were paid for speaking at MKO-linked events. 

Mr. Bolton, George W. Bush’s ambassador to the UN, said he did not see the fact he was being paid “as an issue”, while Mr. Dean, the former Democratic national committee chairman, dismissed the question as a “sideshow”.

None would disclose how much they had been paid, but Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor, said he received $20,000 for an 11-minute speech. “But even if I was paid $50,000, I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t believe in it,” he said.

A former U.S. official said he was offered $30,000 and first class air fares to appear at an MKO-linked event in Europe. Several people familiar with the MKO’s offers described a sliding pay scale of $20,000 to $100,000 per speech, plus travel costs, and that four-speech packages were common. Ahmad Moein, executive director of the Iranian American Community of Northern California, one of the groups behind the lobbying effort, said the figures were “greatly exaggerated”.