tehran talk

State Department’s approval of Iran FM’s visa for U.N. visit splits senators

Next Thursday will mark Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian’s third visit to the U.S. since Oct. 7

Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks at the General Assembly during the 10th Emergency Special Session at the 39th plenary meeting at United Nations headquarters on October 26, 2023 in New York City.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has traveled to the U.S. — on visas granted by the State Department — twice since the Oct. 7 attacks perpetrated by Tehran’s proxy Hamas.

Ahead of his third trip, slated for next week, some legislators on Capitol Hill are voicing concern over Foggy Bottom’s continued approval of Amir-Abdollahian’s visas.

Iran’s mission to the U.N. confirmed this week that Amir-Abdollahian will be in New York on behalf of Tehran next Thursday for a U.N. Security Council meeting on Israel’s war in Gaza. The visit comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and Israel in the wake of a strike that killed seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officials, including two generals, in Syria. Iran has vowed retribution against Israel, which it blames for the attacks.

The U.S. has an agreement with the U.N. that requires the State Department to swiftly issue visas to all foreign diplomats traveling to New York for U.N. events. Those diplomats can seek permission to travel elsewhere in the country, though the U.S. is not required to accept those requests. The U.S. has denied entry to diplomats of foreign adversaries before through an exception in the host agreement relating to terrorism or foreign policy concerns and has the ability to do so for Amir-Abdollahian. 

The State Department declined to comment to Jewish Insider on approving Amir-Abdollahian’s visa, which will permit his travel to New York for official business. On Capitol Hill, senators on both sides of the aisle were split over whether an exception should be made to bar Amir-Abdollahian from entry. 

Asked about Amir-Abdollahian’s visa and inclusion by the U.N. in its upcoming event, Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) said he couldn’t “imagine why anybody would be involved with Iran. They’re the world’s largest underwriter of terror in the world, and I can’t imagine why anything that Iran can say about anything is relevant. I can’t imagine why you would platform that.” 

“The United Nations can’t even condemn Hamas. It’s pretty wild. I mean, you can’t condemn cowards and rapists that hide behind civilians?” he added. “I haven’t remembered them ever saying, ‘Well, why can’t Hamas surrender and end all of this? Let’s end all of this drama.’ But they won’t because they really actually don’t care about all of the death and all of the misery of Palestinians.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) told JI that having people who oppose the United States on American soil has “always been a cost of having the U.N. in the U.S.,” but said he opposed the idea of granting Amir-Abdollahian continued entry. 

Pointing to “what Iran is doing right now, literally attacking Americans and facilitating holding hostages in Gaza,” Lankford said that, “to allow that person to be able to come into the United States, to be able to speak up on our soil, on our platform, as they have done in the past, and to be able to call for the destruction of America or the destruction of Israel on our own soil, gives them bravado on a world stage.”

“We should speak out and say there are people that disagree with us here in the United States and around the world. It’s fine,” Lankford continued. “But when you’re in the process of funding and organizing the Houthis, Hezbollah and Hamas, and you’re destabilizing Syria and Iraq, and you want to come to our soil and brag about it, we should say no.”

Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) said that it is “absolutely not” appropriate for the State Department to have issued the visa. “We ought to be isolating Iran because they’re a terrorist state. We should not be giving privileges to come here, especially not to come to the United Nations and bash on Israel. That’s just absolutely a terrible decision,” he explained. 

“The soft stance on the world’s largest sponsor of global terror is of great concern to me,” Sen. Ted Budd (R-NC) told JI. “I don’t like whether it’s the JCPOA and their positions there or whether it’s this visa, it’s bad signaling to a malevolent force in the world,” he said referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

A number of senators expressed apprehension at the idea of allowing Amir-Abdollahian into the U.S., but described it as an uncomfortable cost of keeping the United Nations on American soil. 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) told JI it’s “probably not” appropriate for the State Department to have granted the visa, though he noted that “maybe it’s a matter of diplomatic courtesy.”

Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) said, “While I hate the thought of it, it’s probably the cost of having the U.N. here. But look, if we can stop this war that’s going to occur in the Middle East, if we can stop it before it gets started, the cost of a visa and the frustration that many of us feel is probably worth it.”

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) pointed to then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s controversial visit to New York to speak at the U.N. General Assembly in 2009, just two years before he was killed.

“I think we’ve got processes in place to allow members of the U.N. to visit New York City. We’ve gone through this before with others; Gaddafi is a relevant example before his ultimate demise,” Kelly told JI. “It’s the United Nations. There are sometimes steps we have to do, because we are the host of the U.N., that we might not like, but it’s probably appropriate.”

Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said that the visa approval would only be surprising if Amir-Abdollahian’s visit went beyond stops at the U.N. and Iranian Embassy — the latter of which has not been in use since 1980. The State Department declined Amir-Abdollahian’s request to travel to Washington, D.C., for meetings during his visit last October.

“I think Iran is a very dangerous state, but I think that’s the responsibility of the United States literally since the beginning of the U.N., that if the U.N. was going to be headquartered in New York, we’ve got to be able to allow friend and foe, alike,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said.

“It’s a difficult question because I don’t know what the precedent is for dealing with speakers who go to the U.N.,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. “Obviously I’m not going to agree with anything he says at the U.N. But if we’re gonna be the host of the U.N., there are probably going to be times when people that we would not want in the country normally, we have to accommodate due to the presence of the U.N.”

Sen. Peter Welch (D-VT) concurred with Warner and Collins, telling JI that, “I’m inclined to let folks come to the U.N.” 

“The U.N. is a space where, it happens to be in the U.S., but it’s about international dialogue,” Welch continued. “There’s a lot of folks who are gonna show up there that we don’t agree with. If [he’s here for] U.N.-official activities, then I think we’re the host of the location where the U.N. is. We can’t shut people out just because people disagree.”

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