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Senior Obama administration officials are expressing concern that congressional attempts to tighten laws preventing terrorists from entering the United States could violate the Iran nuclear agreement and prompt Tehran to walk away from the agreement.
Congress is considering measures that would tighten the Visa Waiver Program to make it harder for potential terrorists to legally enter the United States by increasing restrictions on individuals who have travelled to countries with prominent terrorist organizations from bypassing security checks upon entering the United States.
Iranian officials have in recent days repeatedly issued threatening statements to the Obama administration, saying that such moves would violate the nuclear agreement, and the Obama administration last week conveyed the Iranian anger to American lawmakers.
Stephen Mull, the State Department official in charge of implementing the Iran deal, warned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee late last week that these congressional efforts “could have a very negative impact on the deal.”
Under the revised law, which came in the week of a deadly terrorist attack in California, individuals who have travelled to Iran—a lead sponsor of global terrorism—would no longer be eligible to participate in the Visa Waiver Program, which permits individuals from 38 partner nations to more easily enter the United States.
Congress remains concerned that gaps in the program could prevent federal law enforcement officials from detecting terror-tied individuals before they are granted entrance to U.S. soil.
However, a portion of the Iran nuclear deal mandates that the United States not take any action that could harm Iran’s economic relationships with other countries. Iranian officials maintain that the new restrictions violate this passage of the deal.
Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, said last week that these tightened measures “are aimed at harassment” and that they “blatantly violate the nuclear agreement,” according to comments carried by the Iranian state-controlled press.
Larijani warned that this action will detonate the deal before it has even been implemented.
“If the Americans pursue the plan, they will destroy an achievement with their own hands since it is against the [nuclear deal] and it will trouble them,” he warned.
Rep. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) echoed these concerns last week when he questioned Mull during a Senate hearing.
Visa waiver reform efforts include “a naming of Iran such that individuals who have travelled to Iran will no loner be eligible for the visa waiver program,” Murphy said. “There has been a suggestion because there is an element of the agreement that obligates us to not to take steps that would stop economic relations between other nations and Iran that we could perhaps be in jeopardy of breaching the agreement.”
Mull agreed with this assessment.
“I have heard from very senior, and Secretary [of State John] Kerry has as well, from very senior officials of differing European allies of ours that it could have a very negative impact on the deal,” he said.
Sources working with Congress on the Iran deal criticized the Obama administration for attempting to stymie increased action on terrorism due to its desire to preserve the nuclear deal.
“According to the Obama administration’s latest interpretation, the nuclear deal allows Iran to test ballistic missiles in violation of international law, but does not allow Congress to prevent terrorists from coming into the United States,” Omri Ceren, the managing director of press and strategy at The Israel Project, a D.C.-based organization that works with journalists on Middle East issues, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Seyed Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, also warned that Iran is prepared to “take action” against the United States for implementing visa restrictions.
Iran’s latest threat to break the deal comes amid numerous Iranian provocations, including multiple tests of advanced ballistic missiles, acts prohibited under United Nations Security Council resolutions.
The Obama administration repeatedly said that, while it does not agree with those launches, they do not violate the nuclear deal.