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In Letter, Key Members of Congress Call Kerry’s End-Run on Iran Visa Waiver “Beyond Belief”

Twenty members of the House of Representatives, including key committee chairs, have written a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry blasting the Obama administration’s intention to bypass visa waiver restrictions that were overwhelmingly approved by Congress last week. As the Tower reported yesterday, Kerry had indicated to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the US could waive the provisions of the law that had deliberately been inserted to include Iran as a sponsor of terror.

The letter, which was written by Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.), refers to legislation passed and signed into law last week that that would restrict the automatic granting of visas to individuals who travel to countries that have a high risk of terror involvement. The law explicitly included Iran, a country that the State Department designates as a leading state sponsor of terror. Zarif complained over the weekend that the visa restrictions were a new sanction on Iran, which he believed would violate the nuclear deal. (The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, prevents the United States from placing new sanctions on Iran in response to nuclear work, but the U.S. can still sanction Iran for its sponsorship of terrorism, as Kerry has repeatedly stated). Kerry reassured Zarif that he is “confident that the recent changes in visa requirements passed in Congress, which the Administration has the authority to waive, will not in any way prevent us from meeting our JCPOA commitments.”

On Tuesday, Dold and 19 more members of Congress wrote a letter to Kerry (with Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson cc’ed), saying that it was “beyond belief” that Iranian anxieties about the law’s impact on local businesses “would supersede a newly-enacted U.S. law designed to protect the American people from terrorism.”

The Visa Waiver reform law, which passed the House of Representatives with near-unanimous support and was subsequently included in legislation signed by the President, clearly denies eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program to individuals who have traveled to a country that is “designated by the Secretary of State under section 6(j) of the Export Administration Act of 1979, or any other provisions of law, as a country, the government of which has repeatedly provided support of acts of international terrorism.”  Surely, this provision applies to Iran, which has been designated by the U.S. Department of State as a State Sponsor of Terror for over twenty years.

The facts here are simple: Iran remains one of the world’s leading State Sponsors of Terror, and a new U.S. law – which passed Congress in a bipartisan fashion and was signed by President Obama on December 18, 2015 – states that individuals who have traveled to such a country are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.  Instead, if nationals of the 38 Visa Waiver Program participating countries have recently visited Iran and wish to travel to the United States, they must follow the procedures that apply to travelers in the rest of the world.  This simply means that these individuals undergo the screening traditionally required to receive a visa, and must obtain a visa from a U.S. consulate abroad before entering the United States.

There is no legitimate justification to create a special exemption for Iran from an anti-terrorism and security law that was specifically designed to include Iran.  Iran does not get to veto U.S. security measures.  Therefore, it is imperative that the Obama Administration enforce the law with respect to the new, bipartisan anti-terror reforms in the Visa Waiver Program and not create a special carve-out for Iran.

Among the letter’s other signatories were House Ethics Committee chair Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and House Oversight and Government Reform chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

Click here to read the full letter.

[Photo: Lawrence Jackson]