Paul Pillar’s response to the de-listing of the MEK is exactly right:
No good will come out of this subversion of the terrorist group list with regard to conditions in Iran, the behavior or standing of the Iranian regime, the values with which the United States is associated, or anything else. The regime in Tehran will tacitly welcome this move (while publicly denouncing it) because it helps to discredit the political opposition in Iran—a fact not lost on members of the Green Movement, who want nothing to do with the MEK. The MEK certainly is not a credible vehicle for regime change in Iran because it has almost no public support there. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime will read the move as another indication that the United States intends only to use subversion and violence against it rather than reaching any deals with it.
What may make this decision even more damaging over the long term for U.S.-Iranian relations is that most Iranians loathe the MEK. De-listing the group is a mistake in its own right, but it is especially foolish because it does nothing but generate ill will from Iranians regardless of their views of the regime. Iranians will understandably consider the decision to remove the terrorist designation from the group as an insult, and many will take it as further proof of enduring American hostility towards Iran and Iranians and not just towards the current government.
It’s important to note that the decision by itself does not mean that the U.S. is supporting the MEK or aligning our government with the group, but it will likely be perceived that way. We shouldn’t discount the possibility that the decision to remove them from the FTO list will be exploited by the same pro-MEK advocates in the U.S. that lobbied for them until now. If they are removed from the FTO list now, it will probably be just a matter of time before Iran hawks begin agitating for funding, training, and eventually arming them to use against the Iranian government.
One of the standard, completely false talking points these advocates repeated was that the MEK was a democratic movement and the “main” Iranian opposition group. Many ex-officials, retired officers, and has-been politicians disgraced themselves with their fawning expressions of admiration for Maryam Rajavi. Leaving aside the de-listing decision for a moment, the conduct of these Americans and the absurd claims they made on behalf of a horrible political cult reflect just how corrupting and deluding anti-Iranian hawkishness can be. It shouldn’t be forgotten that these people went far beyond advocating on behalf of people at Camp Ashraf or arguing for de-listing. They were actively shilling for a monstrous, fanatical movement as if it were the legitimate representative of the Iranian people. That is something that shouldn’t be forgotten, nor should it be forgotten that several of the people speaking in support of this group serve in some capacity as advisers to the Republican presidential nominee.