WASHINGTON (WASHNGTON POST) – United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday night (July 14) that he granted a visa to Iran’s foreign minister to visit New York, primarily to meet US obligations to the United Nations, but that his movements will be sharply curtailed.
Mr Pompeo said in a telephone interview that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his delegation will be permitted to travel back and forth between UN headquarters and the Iranian mission six blocks away, and to the residence of Iran’s UN ambassador nearby. The group arrived in New York on Sunday morning.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Mr Pompeo said.
“It’s absolutely appropriate that we provide Foreign Minister Zarif and his delegation with all the rights that they are due under the UN headquarters agreement, and nothing more than that,” he added.
Mr Zarif is in New York to attend a meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council, a high-level ministerial meeting on sustainable development goals for issues that include conflict, hunger, gender equality and climate change. His visa was issued at the US Embassy in Berne, Switzerland, a day before he arrived in the United States.
The Trump administration has considered blacklisting Mr Zarif by sanctioning him, even though Mr Zarif says he has no assets outside of Iran.
The United States has an agreement that requires it to issue visas expeditiously to all foreign diplomats travelling to New York for UN events.
Sanctioning Mr Zarif, Iran’s top diplomat, would further complicate any attempts to restart negotiations with Iran on the nuclear deal that Mr Trump abandoned a year ago and started a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions that have brought Iran’s economy to the brink of collapse.
Mr Zarif is expected to meet with think tanks and journalists while he is in New York, and the six-block restriction means they will have to come to him at the Iran’s UN mission.
Mr Pompeo said Mr Zarif will use the opportunity to spread falsehoods. And then Mr Pompeo made a pitch to appear on Iranian state television.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” he said. “This is a leader who has supported a regime that jails political dissidents, treats women horribly, they go after peaceful worshippers. He’s the mouthpiece of that autocracy. And they suppress free speech.”
Mr Pompeo said he would accept any offer to go on Iranian television, as Mr Zarif has appeared on US television. He said he would tell Iranians that “we care deeply about them, that we’re supportive of the Iranian people, that we understand that the revolutionary theocracy is not acting in a way that is in their best interest.”
Mr Pompeo declined to comment when asked whether he or anyone else in the US government would try to speak with Mr Zarif at the United Nations this week or at the UN General Assembly in September.
Tensions between the Washington and Tehran have risen sharply in the past two months since the United States began ramping up sanctions on Iran’s oil industry. In calibrated steps of response, Iran has surpassed limits of uranium stockpiles and enrichment agreed to in the nuclear deal for the first time since it took effect in 2016.
President Donald Trump and Mr Pompeo have said they would be willing to negotiate with Iran without preconditions. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that he would enter negotiations if the United States lifted sanctions, Mr Pompeo dismissed Mr Rouhani’s offer as “the same offer that he offered to John F. Kerry and Barack Obama.”
“President Trump will obviously make the final decision. But this is a path that the previous administration had gone down and it led to the JCPOA, which this administration, President Trump and I both believe was a disaster,” Mr Pompeo said referring to the nuclear agreement, which is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Mr Pompeo also said the United States is examining the delivery of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system to Turkey, a NATO ally, which he has said may trigger sanctions.
The first components for the system arrived on Friday in the capital, Ankara, Turkey’s defence ministry said in a statement. US law mandates sanctions against countries that make “significant” deals with the Russian defence industry, but the Trump administration has given mixed signals about how it might respond to Turkey.
Mr Pompeo suggested Sunday that the punishments might be imminent.
“The law requires that there be sanctions, and I’m confident that we will comply with the law and President Trump will comply with the law,” he said.
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