A US appeals court on Friday ordered Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to decide within four months whether to remove an Iranian dissident group from a terror blacklist.
The People's Mujahedeen of Iran, also known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), had asked the court to issue a ruling urgently, saying Iraqi forces are threatening members of the group living in Iraq.
The US Court of Appeals in Washington said that if Clinton does not decide whether to deny or grant the group's request within four months, it would issue a so-called writ of mandamus order and remove the group itself.
"We order the secretary to act on PMOI's petition no later than four months from the issuance of this opinion," said the court. "Failing that, the petition for a writ of mandamus setting aside the FTO (foreign terrorist organization) designation will be granted."
Noting that inaction had left the MEK's umbrella group People's Mujahedeen of Iran in "administrative limbo," the court also said it had not been given "sufficient reason" why Clinton had not made a decision over the past 600 days when the US Congress had only given her 180 days to do so.
"In light of the national security and foreign policy concerns underlying the designation, we decline, at this time, to revoke the FTO's designation," the court said.
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Iraq wants the PMOI out of its territory, and signed an agreement with the UN in December to that end.
Group leader Maryam Rajavi hailed the US court's decision as a "triumph of justice" and expressed hope that Clinton would immediately carry out the order to end a "wrongheaded and destructive policy."
"The judgment once again demonstrated that maintaining the terrorist designation on the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) is absolutely illegitimate and unlawful, and is guided by ulterior political motives," Rajavi said in a statement.
On February 18, the first group of 397 MEK exiles moved from their longtime base of Camp Ashraf in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad to Camp Liberty, a former US military base near the Iraqi capital, as part of that process.
The State Department, which indicated it was continuing to review the designation of the group, says the mujahedeen have carried out attacks that killed Iranians, as well as American soldiers and civilians, from the 1970s into 2001.
"As the secretary has stated previously, given the ongoing efforts to relocate the residents of Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya, MEK cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf, the MEK's main paramilitary base, will be a key factor in her decision regarding the MEK's FTO status," it said.
The leftwing group was founded in the 1960s to oppose the shah of Iran, but took up arms against the country's new clerical rulers after the 1979 Islamic revolution.