Obama Admin to Waive Counter-Terror Measures to Aid Iran

Pro-Iran groups, CAIR pressured White House to drop new measures

Jeh Johnson
Jeh Johnson / AP
February 24, 2016

The Obama administration has announced that it will not enforce new counter-terrorism measures passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress because they could harm Iranian business interests, according to new instructions issued by the Department of Homeland Security.

The administration’s decision to waive portions of a new counter-terrorism law aimed at preventing terrorism-linked individuals from traveling to the United States comes on the heels of a lobbying effort by pro-Iran organizations and other Arab advocacy groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR.

Congress last year tightened restrictions on the Visa Waiver Program, which facilitates travel between the United States and 38 other partner countries, to ensure that individuals from Iran and other countries with a terrorist footprint do not enter the United States without first obtaining a visa.

Top Iranian officials objected to the new counter-terror measures, saying that they would harm Iranian business interests and could force the Islamic Republic to walk away from the recently implemented nuclear agreement.

Secretary of State John Kerry wrote to Iranian leaders in December to assure them the Obama administration would waive the regulations, a move that was enforced by DHS earlier this week.

"The administration has the authority to waive" the counter-terrorism measures and will ensure they do not "interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran," Kerry wrote to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

"Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis in the near future," DHS and U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced this week. "Categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include individuals who traveled to these countries on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty; on behalf of humanitarian non-governmental organizations on official duty; or as a journalist for reporting purposes."

Additionally, "individuals who traveled to Iran (only after July 14, 2015) or Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes may be eligible for a waiver," according to DHS.

Lawmakers and experts familiar with Iran’s efforts to use military-controlled companies as a front to promote terrorism warned that the move could enable terrorism-tied individuals to enter the United States.

"The Obama administration seems oblivious to the fact that the Iranian regime systematically relies on Iranian dual nationals to facilitate terrorism, illicit financial activities, dual-use procurement, and industrial espionage," said Emanuele Ottolenghi, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

"Iranian dual nationals traveling to the U.S. should therefore be subject to enhanced due diligence rather than getting the benefit of the Visa Waiver Program, even when they are businessmen who traveled to Iran after the nuclear deal. There should be no substitute for a personal interview with a consular officer," Ottolenghi explained.

Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), who has led efforts to fight against Iranian terrorism, expressed concern over the administration’s latest moves.

"Congress passed a new law to strengthen the Visa Waiver Program against terrorist infiltration to keep American families safe," Kirk told the Washington Free Beacon. "Rather than placating Iran's terror-sponsoring regime with waivers to water down that law, the administration should demand Iran end its support for terrorism and provide tangible evidence that it is doing so."

Pro-Iran lobbyists have pushed the Obama administration to waive the terror law, saying it discriminates against Iranian-Americans.

The National Iranian American Council, or NIAC, a pro-Iran group long accused of lobbying on behalf of the Islamic Republic, recently joined 46 Arab advocacy groups to petition DHS to waive the visa measures.

"Only by utilizing your legal authority waiver can this administration protect dual nationals and shield targeting of these communities, and protect U.S. law enforcement and national security interests in the process," NIAC and the other groups wrote to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. "We strongly urge your administration to utilize its authority to legally waive the dual nationality and travel ban provisions under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act."

Groups backing the effort to waive the measures include CAIR, which was labeled by the FBI as an unindicted co-conspirator in a legal case concerning the funneling of money to Hamas; the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a leading critic of Israel; and the Arab American Institute, whose leader has compared Israel to Nazis.

One foreign affairs operative familiar with the issue criticized these groups for attempting to undermine efforts to bolster U.S. national security.

"It's normal that NIAC and CAIR would come together to gut congressional anti-terror efforts. CAIR has been linked by the FBI to Sunni terror plots," the source said. "NIAC has been accused, even by members of Congress, of shilling for the Shiite terror regime in Iran. It's only natural."

Published under: Iran