A new United States visa restriction targeting Europeans and others who have visited so-called high-risk countries has led to angry reactions in Iran, where some leaders say the decision is a violation of the nuclear agreement reached in July.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, told state media on Monday that visa restriction was an “obstacle, placed by some individuals,” that he hoped would soon be resolved. Mr. Zarif referred to a letter sent by Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday, asserting that the restriction would not affect the nuclear agreement.
The letter, obtained and leaked by the National Iranian American Council, an advocacy group based in Washington, hinted that President Obama would use his executive authority to exempt Iran from the visa restriction, which was passed almost unanimously in Congress. Mr. Obama signed it into law on Friday.
The restriction, a security step arising from the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., prohibits visa-free travel to the United States for anyone who has visited or holds citizenship in Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Iran.
Precisely why Iran was included on the list is unclear, since it is a foe of the Islamic State, the militant extremist group accused of organizing or fomenting the attacks.
Iranian politicians, especially hard-liners who harbor great antipathy toward the United States, are saying the measure will be an obstacle to trade after the implementation of the nuclear agreement and the lifting of the first sanctions against Iran, scheduled in late January.
Mr. Kerry is now promising that this will not be an outcome of the visa restrictions. “We will implement them so as not to interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran,” he wrote in the letter.
The restrictions are part of an amendment to the current visa-free arrangement among 38 countries including members of the European Union and the United States. It will mean that tourists, businesspeople and others from friendly countries in Europe as well as Australia, Japan and South Korea, who have visited Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Iran will soon be forced to apply for a United States visa, instead of traveling freely.
Many of these countries are expected to take countermeasures because the visa-free arrangement is based on reciprocity.
Iranian state radio on Saturday called the amendment the first “American, anti-Iranian measure” since the signing of the nuclear agreement. An influential parliamentarian, Allaedin Boroujerdi, said the move violated the nuclear agreement, which was supposed to ease or end many sanctions.
“The U.S. Congress’s bill is in contradiction to the deal, because they promised us not to impose any restrictions on Iranian nationals,” Mr. Boroujerdi was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency in Iran on Sunday.
Iranians have reacted with shock to the amendment, pointing out that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were not on the list of high-risk countries, though 15 out of 19 participants in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were from Saudi Arabia. The San Bernardino couple who killed 14 people on Dec. 2 had ties to both nations. Others said the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks in November, is an ideological enemy of Iran, and Shiites, the predominant strain of Muslim faith in Iran.
On Monday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hossein Jaberi-Ansari, blamed Israeli groups for having pushed to include Iran in the visa measure.
“There is a large opposition to the nuclear deal with Zionist lobbyists spearheading the efforts that have been made for the deal not to come to fruition,” he was quoted as saying by Press TV, an English-language news agency backed by the government. “What was done in the U.S. was on the back of the Zionist lobby pressure that was opposed to the agreement with Iran.”
Some Iranians sought to play down the problem, pointing to Iran’s recent missile tests that angered the United States government but did not appear to endanger the nuclear agreement.
“The United States complains, but that’s it, everybody wants to move forward,” said one analyst who preferred not to be identified because he did not want to jeopardize his job. “This is just an obstacle, that’s it.”
The New York Times