Trump administration to Iran’s foreign minister: No visa for you … for now


Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has been denied a visa to enter the United States. Zarif wants to attend a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday.

The source of the report is an anonymous U.S. official. No one is providing much information right now. The State Department isn’t commenting and Iran’s mission to the United Nations said, “We have seen the media reports, but we have not received any official communication from either the U.S. or the U.N. regarding Foreign Minister Zarif’s visa,” according to Reuters. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric declined to comment.

Zarif requested the visa because he wants to address the U.N. Security Council about the drone strike that killed General Qassem Soleimani. Left-leaning Foreign Policy reports the visa was requested before the drone strike even happened, though.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif requested a visa a “few weeks ago” to enter the United States to attend a Jan. 9 Security Council meeting on the importance of upholding the U.N. Charter, according to a diplomatic source familiar with the matter. The Thursday meeting was to provide Tehran’s top diplomat with his first opportunity to directly address the world community since U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 3 drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, a top Iraqi militia leader, among others.

The Iranian government was awaiting word on the visa Monday when a Trump administration official phoned U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to inform him that the United States would not allow Zarif into the country, according to the Washington-based diplomatic source.

Reactions to this news are completely predictable – Trump supporters are cheering and his opponents are crying foul. Secretary of State Pompeo has a history of working to restrict visas for Zarif. Foreign Policy describes Zarif as “a skilled debater who has studied in the United States and has extensive contacts with American journalists”.

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In July, the United States restricted his movement to a few blocks in Manhattan and Queens, preventing Zarif from making his regular visits to TV studios, universities, and think tanks. Pompeo defended the decision, noting that American diplomats lack freedom to travel in Iran.

On the eve of the U.N. General Assembly debate in September 2019, Pompeo hinted that he might bar the Iranian delegation, led by President Hassan Rouhani and Zarif, from entering the United States, saying that Iran was responsible for carrying out an earlier drone and missile strike on two critical Saudi Arabian oil installations.

The question is this – does Pompeo have the authority to deny Zarif’s visa request? The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after the revolution but Iran is permitted to maintain a diplomatic outpost in mid-town Manhattan. Therefore, Iran can conduct business at the United Nations. That leaves the 1947 headquarters agreement.

A special headquarters agreement, signed by Secretary-General Trygve Lie and US secretary of state George C. Marshall at Lake Success on 26 June 1947, has been in force since 21 November 1947. It defines the 18 acres of land in New York City located between 42nd and 48th Streets and First Avenue and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive as the Headquarters District of the United Nations. Subsequently, by supplemental agreements between the UN and the US, additional office space located in buildings in the vicinity has been included in the Headquarters District. The Headquarters District is “under the control and authority of the United Nations as provided in this agreement.” It is the seat of the UN, and the agreement stipulates that the district “shall be inviolable.” Federal, state, and local personnel on official duty may enter it only with the consent of the Secretary-General. The UN may make regulations for the area. US federal, state, and local law, insofar as it is inconsistent with UN regulations, does not apply here; otherwise, the US courts would have jurisdiction over actions and transactions taking place in the Headquarters District. The UN may expel persons from the district for violations of regulations. In such cases, and generally for the preservation of law and order, US authorities have to provide a sufficient number of police if requested by the Secretary-General. “No form of racial or religious discrimination shall be permitted within the Headquarters District.” Other detailed provisions in the agreement between the UN and the US deal with the important matter of the accessibility of the seat of the UN to non-US citizens.

In other words, the United Nations has the final word, not the U.S., though the United Nations is on U.S. soil. The U.S. is generally required to allow access to the United Nations by foreign diplomats. Washington officials, however, say the United States can deny visas for security, terrorism, and foreign policy reasons. With escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran right now, Pompeo will likely point to security reasons, along with terrorism, of course, as the reason to deny Zarif’s visa. Iran’s U.N. envoy already weighed in on Soleimani’s death.

Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, has described the killing of Soleimani as “an obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitutes a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular … the Charter of the United Nations.”

The only comment coming from Pompeo was delivered through his spokeswoman. It essentially says nothing.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke with U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier on Monday. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement the pair discussed events in the Middle East and that Pompeo “expressed his appreciation” for Guterres’ diplomatic efforts.

My prediction is that Zarif will be allowed to come and attend the U.N. Security Council meeting, as usual. He’ll be allowed to speak. His speech will focus around condemning America – a diplomatic version of “Death to America”. We’ve seen this show before, haven’t we? President Trump and Secretary Pompeo can say they tried to stop Zarif. The blame can be placed where it should be – with the United Nations Security Council.

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