US, Iran bicker over visa as Rouhani hints at skipping UN meeting

Tehran says lack of visas preventing top Iranian officials from attending UN General Assembly that starts on Monday.

UN General Assembly - Rouhani
Rouhani denounced the US sanctions as "economic terrorism" during his address at the UN in 2018 [File: Jason Szenes/EPA]

Iran‘s President Hassan Rouhani and his delegation could be forced to skip next week’s United Nations General Assembly because the United States has yet to issue them visas, Iranian media reported, as Washington sends mix signals about the latest diplomatic feud.

US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that “if it was up to” him, he would allow Rouhani and his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to come, but US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested earlier in the day that the Iranian delegation should be denied visas.

Rouhani and his delegation had been scheduled to travel to New York for the annual UN gathering on Monday, but that was now looking unlikely given the lack of visas, state news agency IRNA said.

“If the visas aren’t issued in a few hours, this trip will probably be cancelled,” IRNA reported.

The delegation includes Iran’s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was the subject of US sanctions on July 31.

The foreign minister had been due to travel to New York on Friday morning, according to IRNA.

The Trump administration had previously threatened to ban Zarif from travelling to the US.

During his last visit to New York in July, Zarif was only allowed to travel between the UN, the Iranian UN mission, the Iranian UN ambassador’s residence and New York’s John F Kennedy airport.

“Iran’s absence will show that in contrast with its commitments to the United Nations and international organisations within the framework of agreements, diplomacy has no value for the United States,” IRNA said.

“Although the Islamic Republic of Iran has not left the scene and it continues its active diplomacy, the US government must answer for its behaviour,” it added.

The UN General Assembly debate is due to begin on Tuesday.

US diplomatic obligations

As the host government, the US generally is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at UN headquarters.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested on Wednesday that the Iranian delegation should be denied visas [File: Vahid Salemi/AP]

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to comment specifically on the case, saying “We don’t talk about granting or absence of granting of visas.”

“If you’re connected to a foreign terrorist organisation, I don’t know,” he added.

“Seems to me it would be a reason to think about whether they have to be permitted to attend a meeting which is about peace.”

Iran and the US have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal and began reimposing sanctions in its campaign of “maximum pressure”.

Iran responded by scaling back its commitments under the landmark accord, which gave it the promise of sanctions relief in return for limiting the scope of its nuclear programme.

The US has blamed Iran for the weekend attacks on two Saudi oil installations as well as a string of assaults on shipping in sensitive Gulf waters.

Despite Pompeo’s remarks, Trump was later quoted as saying, “I would certainly not want to keep people out if they want to come.”

“If it was up to me, I’d let them come.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed hope that the delegation would get their visas following intervention from the world body.

“We have been in contact with the host-state to solve all outstanding visa problems in relation to delegations and I hope that this will allow to solve the problem,” he said.

The UN has been floated as a possible place for a meeting between Trump and Rouhani, but US officials and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have said direct talks are not planned.

Source: News Agencies