National Security

Lawmakers Slam White House Attempts to Skirt Counter-Terror Laws for Iran

Leading state sponsor of terror opposes counter-terrorism measure

Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif waits to make a statement next to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry following nuclear talks in Lausanne
Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif waits to make a statement next to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry following nuclear talks in Lausanne / Reuters

More than 20 lawmakers have penned letters to the Obama administration expressing anger over its recent decision to waive certain counter-terrorism measures aimed at preventing potential terrorists from easily entering the United States in order to assuage Iran.

The letters from members of Congress come days after the Obama administration promised Iranian leaders it would veto newly passed initiatives tightening the U.S. visa waiver program to close loopholes that have enabled a number of terrorists to enter the country legally.

The new measures would bar individuals who have recently traveled to Iran—the leading state sponsor of terrorism—from participating in the visa waiver program, which eases travel for those from 38 member countries.

Iran expressed anger over the laws, claiming that they violate the recent nuclear accord and could force Iran to abandon the deal before it is even enacted.

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a recent letter to Javad Zarif, the country’s foreign minister, that the administration would ignore the enhanced counter-terrorism measures.

In two separate letters sent Tuesday to the Departments of State and Homeland Security, lawmakers described this action as unconscionable and noted that Iranian actions have been responsible for killing a number of Americans.

"While we understand that Iranian officials have expressed their anxieties to you that this new provision could undermine business opportunities in Iran by international investors, it is beyond belief that those concerns would supersede a newly-enacted U.S. law designed to protect the American people from terrorism," wrote 20 members of Congress, including Republican Reps. Bob Dold (Ill.), David Joyce (Ohio), Ron DeSantis (Fla.), and Mark Walker (N.C.).

The law, which the president has already signed but has threatened to waive in order to calm Iran, "clearly denies eligibility for the visa waiver program to individuals who have traveled to a country that is ‘designated by the Secretary of State’" as a top global sponsor of terrorism, they wrote.

The lawmakers maintain that "there is no legitimate justification to create a special exemption for Iran from an anti-terrorism an security law that was specifically designed to include Iran," they wrote. "Iran does not get to veto U.S. security measures."

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.) independently sent his own letter to Kerry on Tuesday, warning that the administration’s actions "would put U.S. citizens at risk."

Responding to a comment by Zarif calling the new laws "absurd" and questioning whether "anybody in the West [has] been targeted by any Iranian nation," Pompeo included a partial list of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks that have killed Americans.

At least 500 U.S. troops were killed by Iranian explosive devices in Iraq between 2005 and 2011, Pompeo wrote. Another 19 U.S. service members were "murdered and hundreds of others injured" in a 1996 terror attack in Saudi Arabia that was sponsored by Iran.

Iran also continues to imprison at least five American citizens.

"Waiving these visa requirements is not in our country’s national security interests," Pompeo wrote. "The administration cannot allow individuals who are not American citizens, and who have connection to, or have traveled to designated state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran, to come to our country without doing something as simple as applying for a visa."

Pompeo, in a statement issued after he sent the letter, called the administration’s actions "wrong and dangerous."

"Terrorists including Zacarias Moussaoui, the twentieth 9/11 hijacker, and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, both took advantage of the U.S. visa waiver program to enter our country," he said.  "For Secretary Kerry to pander to Iran’s Foreign Minister, as it appears he did when he promised to waive U.S. visa restrictions regarding Iran, is wrong and dangerous. The largest state sponsor of terrorism shouldn’t get to dictate U.S. visa policy."