US Senators Urge Biden to Deny American Visa For Attending UNGA For Iran's President-Elect Raisi
© REUTERS / WANA NEWS AGENCYIran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
© REUTERS / WANA NEWS AGENCY
Ebrahim Raisi was chosen as the next Iranian president in the country's 13th presidential election that took place in mid-June. His inauguration is scheduled for 5 August.
Republican Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, Chuck Grassley, Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, and Marsha Blackburn called on US President Joe Biden to bar the Iranian president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, from entering the United States to attend the UN General Assembly.
In a letter penned to the US president on Tuesday, the GOP lawmakers labeled Raisi a "violator of human rights" who "consistently supports inhumane punishment against the Iranian people". They also asserted that Iran's president-elect "continued to subject the Iranian people to extrajudicial prosecution, torture and execution".
"Ebrahim Raisi should remain sanctioned under US law. If the United Nations General Assembly maintains its current plans to allow some in-person attendance, the White House should deny Raisi and other Iranian leaders visas to attend", the senators write.
The Republican lawmakers referred to what they describe as a "strong precedent" for denying entry visa to a foreign leader, primarily citing cases involving Iranian nationals.
Biden has not commented on the senators' calls.
Iran's president-elect is alleged to be part of a so-called Death Commission from 1988, which is accused of ordering the arrest and execution of thousands of Tehran's political opponents at the time - something that the Islamic republic strongly denies.
Raisi was proclaimed the winner of Iran's 13th presidential election in June, the fairness of which was swiftly questioned by the US. Tehran, however, branded US criticism of the Iranian election as "meddling", noting that Washington "does not have the authority to express views on elections in other countries."
Raisi, who is an ex-chief judge with ties to clergy and the country's religious Supreme Leader, is scheduled to assume office on 5 August.
© AP Photo / Adam RountreeIn this Sept. 13, 2005, file photo, the flags of member nations fly outside the General Assembly building at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
In this Sept. 13, 2005, file photo, the flags of member nations fly outside the General Assembly building at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
© AP Photo / Adam Rountree
Is It Legal for the US to Deny Visas to UN-Assigned Diplomats?
The GOP senators were correct to note that there is a precedent for the US in denying visas for foreign officials attempting to attend diplomatic events, in the UN particularly, even though UN gatherings are assembled with the goal of providing world leaders a platform to find common language on a range of important global issues.
In 2014, Iranian Ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi, who, as claimed by the GOP lawmakers, "was involved in taking American diplomats hostage in 1979", was not allowed to enter the United States by the Obama administration. In 2020, a US visa was denied for Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who was expected to address the UN Security Council at the time.
Russian UN-assigned diplomats have also faced visa troubles when trying to attend UN events, as did the head of the Russian delegation, Konstantin Vorontsov when he was to take part in a meeting of the UN Committee on Disarmament. In 2019, dozens of members of the Russian delegation for the UN General Assembly were denied visas, with Washington claiming that they had failed to provide the necessary documents on time - something that the Russian side refuted.
Critics condemned the moves as a violation of the UN-US Headquarters Agreement of 1947, which envisages the US allowing foreign officials into the country that hosts the United Nations headquarters.
Particularly, Section 11 of the Agreement states that the "federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of [...] representatives of Members or officials of the United Nations."
Moreover, according to Section 13, US laws "regarding the entry of aliens shall not be applied in such manner as to interfere with the privileges referred to in Section 11."
"When visas are required for persons referred to in that section, they shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible", the document reads.