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A federal appeals court in Washington has agreed to expedite a dispute over an Iranian dissident group’s official U.S. State Department designation as a foreign terrorist organization. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran last week asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to force the State Department to either remove the group from the foreign terrorist list or to compel the agency to make a decision in 30 days. Officially designated a terrorist organization in 1997, the PMOI has tried unsuccessfully in recent years to get off the State Department’s list. In the latest round, a D.C. Circuit panel in July 2010 sent the dispute back to State for additional review. But the agency has not issued a decision. The PMOI’s attorneys, who include Viet Dinh of Washington’s Bancroft and Mayer Brown partner Andrew Frey, asked the appeals court to speed up resolution of the petition that was filed on Feb. 27. The attorneys said in court papers in the D.C. Circuit that expedited consideration is necessary “to prevent the Iraq government from continuing to endanger the lives” of PMOI members at an exile camp near the Iran-Iraq border. The Iraqi government wants to shut down Camp Ashraf by the end of April. Dinh, a lead attorney for PMOI, said in the papers that the D.C. Circuit should act swiftly “to forestall the humanitarian crisis that threatens to unfold as third countries are reluctant to accept Ashraf residents for resettlement as long as PMOI remains” on the foreign terrorist organization list. Last week, U.S. Justice Department lawyers, including Douglas Letter, a top Civil Division appellate attorney who specializes in terror-related litigation, asked the D.C. Circuit to deny the PMOI petition. “A final determination regarding the PMOI request for revocation of its designation as an FTO requires a decision by the Secretary of State, taking into consideration highly classified information, expert analyses of the material in the administrative record, delicate foreign relations concerns, and complex national security determinations,” Letter said. “This type of Executive Branch decision making is particularly unsuited for mandamus orders by the Judicial Branch.” Letter said the DOJ’s response to the PMOI request for delisting “would have to be closely coordinated at a high level with various different agencies,” including State, the Department of Treasury and DOJ. The appeals court panel — D.C. Circuit judges Karen LeCraft Henderson and David Tatel, with Senior Judge Stephen Williams — told DOJ to respond to the petition by March 26. The panel that is overseeing the dispute is the same one that ruled in favor of the PMOI nearly two years ago. The circuit judge then said the State Department violated the Iranian group’s rights, denying timely access to unclassified information. Contact Mike Scarcella at mscarcella@alm.com.

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