But the delisting of the MEK, Iran experts say, could benefit Iran's hard-line rulers by giving them more reason to brutally clamp down on Iran's internal, nonviolent opposition. The Green Movement – which led street protests in 2009 – steadfastly rejects the MEK as an anti-democratic and violent force.
"The people who are saying [the MEK] are no longer terrorists are also saying they are democratic," says John Limbert, a former US hostage in Iran from 1979-1981, who was US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran until last year.
"The issue is, have [the MEK] changed their terrorist nature?" asks Ambassador Limbert. "If they say, 'We renounce terrorism,' I have no confidence in that. What is it in their past – or in their present – that leads you to have confidence in such a statement?"
"The MEK, with its violent history, is exactly what the Iranian regime needs to legitimate its violence against the peaceful opposition," says Maziar Bahari, a journalist who was incarcerated in Iran during the 2009 protests. He spoke Aug. 4 in Washington at a panel organized to warn of the risks of delisting the MEK.
Reformist cleric Mohsen Kadivar and US-based academic Ahmad Sadri warn of broader dangers. Taking the MEK off the terrorist list, they have written, would "trigger a huge loss of US soft power in Iran, damage Iran's democratic progress, and help Iranian hardliners cement a long-term dictatorship."