Iran Denies Visas to Republican Lawmakers

Iran has denied visas to three Republican lawmakers who wanted to observe Iran’s parliamentary elections, meet Iranian leaders, inspect nuclear sites, and meet with Americans held in Iran. In February 2016, Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) filed applications with the Iranian interest section at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, D.C. They also sent an open letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guards chief Mohammad Ali Jafari requesting them to facilitate the application process. The three lawmakers opposed the nuclear deal that was reached in July 2015 by the world’s six major powers and Iran.
On June 7, the Iranian Foreign Ministry released the text of its reply to the media. “In sum, we consider your visa request to have been a publicity stunt and not an appropriate request to visit a sovereign country; and it has, and will continue to be, treated in that spirit,” said the letter, which came from Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s office.
In a statement, Zeldin said that he was not surprised by the “shameful” response. He said that the letter, like the nuclear deal, “spits in the face of the freedom loving world.” LoBiondo and Pompeo also criticized the response. The following is the full text of the foreign ministry’s letter with responses by the lawmakers obtained by The Weekly Standard.

The Foreign Minister has been informed of your letter of April 12, 2016, concerning your purported visa request. In this regard, we draw your attention to the following:

- Despite what you seem to presume, members of the U.S Congress do not get to dictate the policies of other countries. This clearly applies to Iranian visa policies. Bear in mind that as members of the US Congress you are not a global authority.

- The nuclear agreement known as JCPOA has clearly specified that the sole body competent for monitoring the implementation of its nuclear provisions is the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). No JCPOA participant, including the United States, and certainly no citizen or official of these countries, can arrogate any such right to monitor the implementation of JCPOA to itself, nor are they authorized by the JCPOA or other provisions of international law to encroach upon Iranian sovereignty by claiming such monitoring authority.

- In the modern era, visits to sites or parliamentary or other delegations to monitor elections are made upon invitations and through bilateral agreements between sovereign states or based on reciprocal arrangements, and not upon unilateral demands by self-arrogating individuals or parliamentarians. It bears reminding that Iran and the United States do not have diplomatic relations, and as such, there are no reciprocal monitoring arrangements between the two countries.

- The US Congress has recently enacted legislation that bars people—ordinarily subject to visa waiver rules— who travel to Iran to enter the United States without obtaining a visa. And, when Secretary Kerry, in fulfilling US obligations emanating from the JCPOA, promised to waive restrictions on the visa waiver program for individuals who have traveled to Iran, some of you are on record as saying that "waiving restrictions for persons who have traveled to Iran or who hold Iranian citizenship would put U.S. citizens at risk". Surely it is ironic that you believe that going to Iran would "radicalize" and turn citizens of all other countries into "potential security risks" for the United States; but you still seek to visit Iran and believe that such a visit will have no such radicalizing effect on you.

- In spite of your claim, since 1980 -- when the U.S. broke off diplomatic relations with Iran—Iranian government officials are generally barred from entering the US. We are only permitted -- on a case-by-case basis and after a very lengthy and unusually difficult and highly selective process -- to enter the US to attend meetings of international organizations located on U.S soil; this while the U.S is legally required to grant free and unrestricted access as per its international obligations under relevant multilateral agreements. This obligation has never been consistently and faithfully observed. And despite what you seem to believe, Iranian diplomats and nationals who work at the United Nations or come to New York to attend UN meetings, are all restricted to a 25 mile radius of Columbus Circle in Manhattan. That is the extent of the hospitality that you boast about in your letter.

- From the time when the manufactured "nuclear crisis" has been settled through the JCPOA, tens of thousands of tourists, academics, investors, students and businesspeople from around the world - including many Americans - have obtained visas and travelled to Iran without any delay or complication. But they have been able to do so by making requests consistent with the relevant regulations of the host country and in the appropriate respectful manner and not in the completely inappropriate way you have demanded to visit Iran and interfere in what is of no relevance to your official functions. We doubt that any self-respecting country would grant a visa under such circumstances.

- In sum, we consider your visa request to have been a publicity stunt and not an appropriate request to visit a sovereign country; and it has, and will continue to be, treated in that spirit.
Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran
Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ)
Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
“It is deeply disappointing, though not surprising, Iran would respond to our legitimate request with insults and deflections. As predicted, in denying our visa request Iran reaffirms that President Obama's 'new era of openness and cooperation,' as sold to the American people and the world, is a farce. Our resolve to ask critical questions and conduct the vigorous oversight required in dealing with Iran will continue despite this decision.”
—June 7, 2016, in a statement via The Weekly Standard
Mike Pompeo (R-KS)
Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
“This absurd letter from the Iranian Foreign Ministry is unsigned, months overdue, and refers to our request for visas to travel to Iran as a 'publicity stunt.' It is not responsive to our request, and is an attempt to distract from some of the Ayatollah's far more dramatic 'publicity stunts' such as writing 'Israel must be wiped out' on ballistic missiles, plotting to blow up a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and kidnapping American sailors on the day of the State of the Union. Our request was never a publicity stunt. It was, and remains, a serious attempt to accomplish important tasks for the American people. I ask the government of Iran yet again, grant our request for a visa.”
—June 7, 2016, in a statement via The Weekly Standard
Lee Zeldin (R-NY)
Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

“While not surprised at this reaction from a Ministry-level entity within the Iranian government, like the JCPOA, this letter is an unsigned document that spits in the face of the freedom loving world. This shameful response dodges almost all the inquiries of our letter, because they fear the consequences of honesty. The Iranians may have President Obama and Secretary Kerry wrapped around their fingers and toes, but January 2017 will be here soon enough. Iran is the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism and this letter from [Iranian foreign minister Javad] Zarif's office is a glaring reminder that they should be treated as such. It's really too bad that they go so far out of their way to prevent a democracy from flourishing in their own country, because they know well that they would finally be replaced by leaders who want to empower their people rather than themselves and want to lead Iran to better days ahead instead of violently downhill. Inside of Iran are millions of great people who understand that while Obama and Kerry prop up the wrong regime, one opportunity after another is being missed to replace these Iranian thugs with true leaders and peaceful actors.” 

—June 7, 2016, in a statement via The Weekly Standard