It’s safe to say that the Iranian nuclear issue truly became an issue for the IAEA when the NCRI sorta revealed in August 2002 what Iran had been up to at Natanz and Arak. Leaving aside that their revelations weren’t particularly accurate, it’s worth noting how little of State’s then-Deputy Spokesperson Philip Reeker contemporaneous press briefing was about the nuclear issue:
QUESTION: The Iranian National Council of Resistance, or National Council of Iranian Resistance, has held a press conference this morning here in Washington. They were classified as a terrorist organization because they’re associated with Mujahedin-e Khalq, which is a —
MR. REEKER: MEK.
QUESTION: MEK. So I was just wondering what your position is on terrorist organizations like these, or organizations like these who are affiliated or on the list of terrorism —
MR. REEKER: It’s a terrorist organization. It’s listed as such, designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization under US law. You can read about them in the Patterns on Global Terrorism Report.
QUESTION: But they’re operating openly. They had a press conference here in Washington. I mean, you’re not —
MR. REEKER: For that, you would need to talk to the Justice Department that enforces that law domestically.
QUESTION: Well, still on that matter, they actually — the press conference that they had was to disclose information that they had that Iran is in the process of building two new nuclear sites for weapons-grade fuel, and that they said that this information was passed on to the administration. So I guess the question is do you believe — have you seen this information? Do you believe it to be true? And do you believe that Iran is in the process of building two nuclear sites?
MR. REEKER: I wouldn’t be in a position to discuss intelligence information from whatever source it might be, so I can’t help you on that.
I think in terms of Iran, our differences with Iran stem from policies and actions of its government, and we’ve talked about that for some time, specifically the support for international terrorist groups, the opposition to Arab-Israeli peace process, their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and the ballistic missile systems with which to deliver such weapons, and their poor human rights record. And these have been the issues and concerns that we have had about the Iranian regime for some time. So that remains our position.
I think the President has been quite clear that the future of Iran will be decided by the people of Iran, and he made a statement on July 12th that I can refer you to in terms of some of the internal debate taking place in Iran and the fact that the United States follows this with interest, but that it’s a matter for the people of Iran to decide. And as the President said, an Iran that moves towards freedom and tolerance will have no better friend than the United States.
QUESTION: Phil, back on the question of the NCR, can you check if it’s possible and find out when the last communication was from the State Department to the Justice Department about the — about this group? Because it does seem implausible that it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows if a group that’s labeled an FTO is giving a press conference in a hotel, you know, at the Willard that’s just a stone’s throw from the White House. So if it’s possible, can you find out when the last time you — it was raised with justice?
MR. REEKER: Yes, I mean, Justice enforces the law. We make designations under it and Justice enforces that law. You need to ask them what they may be looking at in terms of —
QUESTION: That’s what I want to know, if it’s possible. Have you guys been kind of saying, look, there’s this group out there and they’re on the list, and they’re still operating.
MR. REEKER: I’d be happy to check. I’m sure they are equally as aware of the list and the people on it as are we.
QUESTION: But if we could stay on the subject, I mean, these people came into the United States. They probably got visas through the State Department. I mean, isn’t there some sort of law banning —
MR. REEKER: I don’t know who these people are or whether they were people here in the United States or what their citizenship was, or anything else. I’m afraid I don’t have any information on who they are. I did hear that there was a press conference being given today, I believe at 11:00 a.m., by such a group, but I have no further information on them. And as a domestic matter in terms of law enforcement, it would be for the Department of Justice to look into that.
QUESTION: If — I mean, this looks very much like the Iraqi resistance movement which was here last week, the leaders from the Iraqi resistance movement. If Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction, nuclear or biological, which this group says they are, with the assistance of Russia, and they’re campaigning here in the US. The regime in Iran is not exactly free and democratic and open. Will the State Department take some sort of action? Are you in contact with this group to try and do something there like what you’re trying to do in Iraq?
MR. REEKER: Again, I think you’re looking at two different situations. I’ve made quite clear, yet again today, what our concerns are about Iran, what our policy is about Iran. I have invited you to review the President’s statement from July 12th. But very much so, our concerns include Iranian Government’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and missile systems. So that remains a concern of ours that we watch very closely.
QUESTION: Is it possible that a D.C. representative office of an FTO could be exempted? This is what this group claims —
MR. REEKER: You’d have to ask the Justice Department because they enforce the law, that is, the Anti-Terror and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
QUESTION: So that’s not the State Department’s —
MR. REEKER: They would, and we don’t have a domestic law enforcement role. You need to ask the Justice Department on that.
QUESTION: I’m aware of that. But do you make exceptions — you designate the FTOs.
MR. REEKER: Right.
QUESTION: Do you make exceptions for groups underneath the umbrella name of MEK? It’s not about enforcement; it’s about designation. If they’re not designated an FTO —
MR. REEKER: This particular group that you’re asking about, at least according to the press release or the announcement of their press conference is, we consider, the so-called NCRI, National Council of Resistance of Iran, we consider them to be a Foreign Terrorist Organization, consider them to be under the umbrella of the Mujahedin-e Khalq organization, the MEK.
QUESTION: So any of their subsidiaries would be similarly designated?
MR. REEKER: Right. And if you look in Patterns of Global Terrorism, they list a number of them, and there are others I think included in the actual legal documents that designate it. Because obviously people can adopt new names and new acronyms and other things, so that is watched very closely.
But again, on the domestic side would be the Justice Department that could look at that.
QUESTION: Phil, you never — I don’t know if you ever answered the question. If you did, I’m sorry. But has anybody from the State Department met with this group on this matter?
MR. REEKER: I’m not aware of it.
QUESTION: Could you take the question?
MR. REEKER: Be happy to look into it.
QUESTION: Or received any information.
QUESTION: Or received any information from them, without getting into the specifics of it.
MR. REEKER: Be happy to check for you, Elise.