The Trump administration is barring Iran’s
top diplomat from entering the United States
this week to address the United Nations
Security Council about the U.S.
assassination of Iran’s top military
official in Baghdad, violating the terms of
a 1947 headquarters agreement requiring
Washington to permit foreign officials into
the country to conduct U.N. business,
according to three diplomatic sources.
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.
The move comes as the United States
and Iran engaged in tit-for-tat
recriminations over the killing of
Suleimani. Trump tweeted over the
weekend that if Iran retaliates for
Suleimani’s death, it will face U.S.
attacks on 52 targets—the number of
hostages held by Iran in 1979. “Let this
serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes
any Americans, or American assets, we
have … targeted 52 Iranian sites
(representing the 52 American hostages
taken by Iran many years ago), some at a
very high level & important to Iran &
the Iranian culture, and those targets,
and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST
AND VERY HARD,” he said. “The USA wants
no more threats!”
Tehran, meanwhile, announced Sunday it
was ending its commitment to limit
enrichment of uranium as part of its 2015
nuclear deal, which Trump pulled out of in
2018 and then followed up by reimposing
tough sanctions on Iran.
But even before the current crisis, U.S.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in recent
months had sought to restrict the ability of
Zarif—a skilled debater who has studied in
the United States and has extensive contacts
with American journalists—to make his case
to the American public during previous
visits to the United States.
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.
The United States broke off diplomatic
relations with Iran after the revolution.
Iran is permitted to maintain a diplomatic
outpost in midtown Manhattan to conduct U.N.
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 actions that the Iranian regime took
violated the U.N. Charter,” Pompeo said at
the time. “If you’re connected to a foreign
terrorist organization, it seems to me it
would be a reasonable thing to think about
whether they ought to be prevented to attend
a meeting which is about peace.”
But U.N. legal experts question whether
Pompeo has the legal authority to bar the
Iranians. And the United States relented and
granted the Iranians visas at the time.
“Any foreign minister is entitled to
address the Security Council at any time and
the United States is obligated to provide
access to the U.N. headquarters district,”
said Larry Johnson, a former U.N. assistant
secretary-general. Under the terms of the
U.S. agreement with the United Nations,
“they are absolutely obligated to let him
Johnson, who currently serves as an
adjunct professor at Columbia University Law
School, noted that the U.S. Congress,
however, passed legislation in August 1947,
the so-called Public Law 80-357, that
granted the U.S. government the authority to
bar foreign individuals invited by the
United Nations to attend meetings at its New
York City headquarters if they are deemed to
pose a threat to U.S. national security. But
Johnson said the U.S. law would require the
individual be “expected to commit some act
against the U.S. national security interest
while here in the United States.”
The State Department and the U.S. Mission
to the United Nations did not respond to a
request for comment, or a request to explain
what the U.S. legal basis is for barring
Zarif from entering the country.
A spokesperson for the U.N.
secretary-general also declined comment.
It is not the first time, however, that
the United States has prevented a foreign
adversary from entering the country to
attend a U.N. gathering.
In 1988, the Reagan administration
barred the Palestine Liberation
Organization leader Yasser Arafat from
addressing the U.N. General Assembly on the
grounds that he posed a threat to U.S.
security. At the time, Patricia M. Byrne,
the U.S. representative in the host country
committee, said the United States “reserves
to us … the right to bar the entry of those
who represent a threat to our security.”
In response, the U.N. General Assembly
traveled to Geneva to hear Arafat’s
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