US Senators Tom Cotton. (Getty)

July 29, 2021

In a letter to President Joe Biden this week(link is external), US Senators Tom Cotton, Chuck Grassley, Rick Scott, Marsha Blackburn, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz have requested that he refuse to issue a visa to Iran’s incoming President Ebrahim Raisi(link is external) and senior Iranian officials if they decide to travel to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly. Raisi is scheduled to assume office on August 5.

“Allowing Raisi to travel to the United States—to the same city where the Iranian regime just tried to kidnap a U.S. citizen—would legitimize his repression, undermine America’s moral leadership, and potentially endanger our national security, given the likely presence of intelligence agents in the Iranian traveling party,” the letter said.

The reference to kidnapping pertained to federal indictments issued this month against four Iranian intelligence agents who were allegedly involved in a plot to kidnap Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist and activist living in Brooklyn, NY.

In the letter, the Senators cited Raisi’s record of service as Tehran’s deputy prosecutor on a “Death Commission” in 1988, which executed thousands of political prisoners. They also referenced his tenure as Iran’s deputy chief justice, when he played a role in the punishment of political protesters following the disputed 2009 presidential election.

The lawmakers also urged the president to maintain the US sanctions on Raisi, under Executive Order 13876, which the Trump administration imposed in 2019, citing his human rights abuses. Sources have indicated to Iran International TV that Iran has insisted the United States rescind Executive Order 13876 as a part of the Vienna negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Doing so would mean the lifting of sanctions on the most powerful actors within the Iranian establishment, like Raisi. The Biden administration has pledged to only lift sanctions which are inconsistent with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The Senators listed precedents in US history where the United States denied entry visas to world leaders—like the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in 1988; Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations-Designate Hamid Aboutalebi in 2014; and Iran’s current Foreign Minister Javad Zarif in 2020.

The UN General Assembly will convene in the second half of September and if Iran makes a visa request for Raisi and the Biden Administration decides to issue one, it has to wave Executive Order 13876, at least for this purpose.

For now, there is little chance that the Vienna nuclear talks can make a breakthrough by September. Statements and reports indicate deep divisions since talks adjourned in June and Iran has said it will return to Vienna some time after Raisi takes office.

The existing reality was somewhat reflected in a speech by Ali Khamenei on Wednesday when he once again reiterated his deep distrust of the West and sounded uncompromising.

Iran International

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.