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US Defends Tighter Travel Restrictions on Iran’s Diplomats in New York



This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service

The U.S. is defending its new restrictions on the movements of Iranian diplomats at the United Nations in New York, saying the measures are consistent with U.S. obligations as host of the world body. 

In response to a question from VOA Persian, a State Department spokesperson issued a Thursday statement saying the tightened restrictions on Iranian diplomats will be implemented “consistently with our obligations under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement.” 

“The United States takes its obligations as the host of the United Nations seriously. The U.S. intends to stick to its obligations,” the spokesperson said. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, speaking to reporters on Wednesday while attending meetings at the New York U.N. headquarters, denounced the new U.S. travel restrictions as “basically inhuman.” Prior to Zarif’s Sunday arrival in New York, the U.S. had restricted him and the Iranian mission’s staff and family members to a 40-kilometer-radius around Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan. 

In a diplomatic note to the Iranian mission to the U.N. dated July 12 and seen by VOA Persian, the U.S. mission to the U.N. said all members of the Iranian U.N. mission, their immediate family members and visiting representatives of the Iranian government would be restricted immediately to travelling to just four areas of New York City. 

The Chrysler Building is reflected in the side of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in midtown Manhattan, New York City, March 3, 2017.

Those areas comprise the U.N. headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, the Iranian mission to the U.N. a few blocks away, the residence of the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and “the six blocks surrounding Queensboro Plaza in Long Island City” in the New York City borough of Queens. The connection between the Iranian U.N. mission and the Queensboro Plaza area was not clear. 

The U.S. note said the Iranian diplomats and family members also would be required to use the Queens Midtown Tunnel for access to John F. Kennedy International Airport. It said travel outside of those areas would require a waiver to be granted by the State Department’s Office of Foreign Missions, with applicants having to submit requests for such waivers five days in advance. 

The U.S. note also said requests for residential or hotel accommodations for the Iranian personnel in New York would have to be submitted to the Office of Foreign Missions for approval as well. 

Section 11 of a 1947 U.S. agreement with the U.N. establishing the headquarters of the world body in New York says the U.S. “shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district” to “representatives” of U.N. member states. 

Section 15 of the same agreement also says all New York resident representatives of U.N. members “shall, whether residing inside or outside the headquarters district, be entitled in the territory of the United States to the same privileges and immunities, subject to corresponding conditions and obligations, as (the U.S.) accords to diplomatic envoys accredited to it.”

But the agreement also says that in the case of U.N. members whose governments are not recognized by the United States, “privileges and immunities” for resident representatives need to be extended “only within the headquarters district, at their residences and offices outside the district, in transit between the district and such residences and offices, and in transit on official business to or from foreign countries.” 

Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since Islamist clerics took control of Iran in a 1979 revolution and broke ties with the U.S. whom they labeled a “Great Satan.”

Iran’s U.N. mission did not respond to several VOA Persian requests for comment on the impact of the tighter U.S. travel restrictions for its personnel. 

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, seen in this file photo. ‘

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia told reporters on Thursday that he believes the new restrictions on Iranian diplomats are “absolutely undiplomatic (and) uncivilized.” Asked whether he would protest, he responded: “I think Iran should protest first of all, but of course we will support that.” 

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a Wednesday press briefing that the organization has raised its concerns about the move with the U.S. mission to the U.N. and will “continue to take up the matter as needed.”

Hooshang Amirahmadi, president of the Princeton, New Jersey-based American Iranian Council research group that seeks to improve understanding between the two peoples, said he believes the unusually tough new travel restrictions on Iranian diplomats in New York are intended to “humiliate” Iran and will not help to resolve the long-running tensions between the two sides. 

Speaking to VOA Persian in a Thursday interview, Amirahmadi said he knows many of the dozens of affected Iranian diplomats and their family members personally. But he disputed Zarif’s contention that the U.S. measures are “basically inhuman.” 

“Iran has a U.N. mission in New York and an interests section (at the Pakistani embassy) in Washington, while the U.S. has no diplomatic offices in Iran,” Amirahmadi said. “So Iran has more access to America than vice versa, and the time has come for that inequality to be corrected.” 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, July 18, 2019, at the U.S. State Department in Washington.

In an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “U.S. diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either.”