The Cable

Patrick Kennedy on the MEK: I am an Ashrafi

Hundreds of supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) movement converged on the State Department on Friday to hear former U.S. congressmen and senior officials call for the U.S. government to take the MEK off its list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) emceed the rally in front of the State Department headquarters. The event also featured speeches by former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA), former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations John Sano.

"One of the greatest moments was when my uncle, President [John F.] Kennedy, stood in Berlin and uttered the immortal words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,'" Kennedy exclaimed. "Today, I'm honored to repeat my uncle's words, by saying [translated from Farsi] ‘I am an Iranian,' ‘I am an Ashrafi."

The crowd erupted in cheers and applause and began chanting, "MEK yes, mullahs no! They are terrorists, they must go!"

Kennedy advocated taking the MEK off the terrorist list, which it has been on since 1997, and accused the Iraqi government of committing war crimes by killing innocent members of the MEK at Camp Ashraf. 3,400 MEK members live in the desert camp in Iraq under restrictive conditions.

"To my friends in the State Department behind us, who continue to hold fast to an old policy that is supported by Tehran, you are on the wrong side of history," Kennedy shouted. "To [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki, your brutal and deadly assault on Camp Ashraf will land you in the International Criminal Court, where you will be held accountable."

"I love you," Kennedy told the crowd. "If you take the MEK off the list, you will unshackle a group that will help take out the mullahs in Iran."

Next up was Rendell, who called on the international community to militarily intervene in Camp Ashraf, comparing it to Muammar al-Qaddafi's assault on Benghazi earlier this year.

"The international community conducted a military intervention in Libya to protect innocent civilians. We should do the same thing to protect the innocent people in Camp Ashraf," Rendell said.

MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, who lives in Paris with her husband Massoud Rajavi (who hasn't been seen in public since 2003), is banned from traveling to the United States. But she spoke to the rally via a video message on a big screen, and accused the State Department of giving implicit permission to the Iranian and Iraqi governments to kill children.

"The terror listing in the U.S. is openly used as a justification to legitimize such bloodletting, by both the cruel mullahs as well as their proxy government in Iraqi," she said. "Therefore, the Iranian people are asking the United States, ‘Why are you not annulling the license to kill our children?'"

The Cable's informal headcount put the number of attendees at about 1,000 to 1,500, with long lines of young Iranian-Americans wearing shirts with photos of dead MEK members imprinted on them. Some attendees had photos of the Rajavis on their shirts. Add to that flags, confetti, and a full drum line.

We asked Kennedy if he had been paid for his appearance at the rally, but he refused to answer. Ali Safavi, president of a pro-MEK group Near East Policy Research, said the speakers were paid through a speakers bureau, which receives money from wealthy Iranian-Americans in the United States. He also said those Iranian-Americans work with the law firm DLA Piper, but he denied the allegation that DLA and these individuals help funnel money from the MEK to the former U.S. officials.

In a crowd made up of people who were mostly of Middle Eastern origin, a group of African-American attendees wearing MEK gear stood out. One man, who would only identify himself as "The Great Lonnell," was holding a "Delist the MEK" banner while wearing a shirt that said, "Behold the Great Beast."

"We are here representing on behalf of the Iranian community. This vicious dictator who is calling himself a president is murdering these people, he's slaying them, and nothing is getting done," the Great Lonnell said. "And they are here rallying to get the attention of a government that has deaf ears."

The Great Lonnell came to Washington from Staten Island, NY -- along with 200 people from a church he attends -- to support the MEK's struggle for human rights. He and his group have been attending MEK rallies for several months, he said.

The Great Lonnell then pulled your humble Cable guy aside and asked to pitch Foreign Policy another story.

"Do you want to write my own story?" he asked. "I am the Beast that will come to the earth, from Revelations in the Old Testament. I am that person."

The Cable was not able to confirm that The Great Lonnell was in fact the Beast from Revelations.

 

UPDATE: Zaid Jilani and Ali Gharib from ThinkProgress interviewed attendees at the rally, many who had tenuous if any links to the MEK and little understanding of why there were there. Many had traveled from far away on fully funded trips.  Some appeared to be homeless. Watch the video here:

Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy

The Cable

Libyan rebels to get $1.5 billion, sort of

The U.N. sanctions committee struck a deal to release to the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) $1.5 billion of frozen Qaddafi assets late on Thursday afternoon, but only a fraction of those funds will actually be placed in the TNC's hands.

Under the compromise between the U.S. -led members of the committee and South Africa, the lone holdout, the official document releasing the funds won't specify that the money is being released to the TNC -- it will only say that the funds are going to the "relevant Libyan authorities." A senior U.S. official said that this would have no practical effect, but explained that it allowed South Africa, which has not yet formally recognized the TNC, to sign on to the agreement.

The $1.5 billion represents about half of the frozen funds held in the United States and only a fraction of the estimated $30 billion of Qaddafi funds frozen worldwide.

$500 million of the newly-thawed assets will go to U.N. organizations involved in relief missions in Libya and will be disbursed directly to them. Another $500 million will be paid directly to fuel vendors, with $300 million of those funds reimbursing vendors for fuel that has already been delivered, leaving $200 million for future fuel needs.

The last $500 million will be placed in the hands of what's called the temporary financial mechanism, an account created by the Libya Contact Group, which is made up of countries supporting the TNC. The TNC will have to go to the Contact Group with specific bills or receipts to get the money, which will be given to them on a case-by-case basis for education, health, or humanitarian needs.

The TNC has assured the United States that none of the money will be used for military items, the senior U.S. official said.

"Today, we have secured the release of $1.5 billion in Libyan assets that had been frozen in the United States. This money will go toward meeting the needs of the people of Libya. We urge other nations to take similar measures. Many are already doing so," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.

"As funds are released, we look to the Transitional National Council to fulfill its international responsibilities and the commitments it has made to build a tolerant, unified democratic state -- one that protects the universal human rights of all its citizens."

Clinton also called on the TNC to prevent revenge and reprisal attacks against Qaddafi supporters , protect Qaddafi's weapons stockpiles from falling into the wrong hands, provide basic services, and move quickly to start the process of democratic transition.

A Reuters reporter found 30 dead Qaddafi loyalists Thursday in a military encampment in central Tripoli who appeared to have been executed.

"From the beginning, the United States has played a central role in marshalling the international response to the crisis in Libya," Clinton said.

Meanwhile, today in Istanbul, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns led the U.S. delegation to the political directors' level meeting of the Libya Contact Group, its first since the Qaddafi regime fell. Assistant Secretaries of State Jeffrey Feltman and Phil Gordon also attended. The issue of whether to introduce foreign troops in Libya was discussed.

"It is our understanding that the TNC is unlikely to request a formal peacekeeping force, but it may need U.N. and international community help supporting its policing needs. And precisely what it may ask for remains to be determined," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

Clinton will attend the ministerial level meeting of the contact group in Paris next week.

The Cable also asked the senior U.S. official why the U.S. government calls the rebel council the TNC, when the rebel council seems to refer to itself as the NTC (National Transitional Council).

"The TNC in its own documents and statements, refers to itself sometimes as the TNC and sometimes as the NTC, so we've chosen to stick with the TNC, which they began using first, since they seem to use both," the official said.

AFP/Getty Images