Republican senators called on the White House to block senior Iranian officials, including incoming hardline president Ebrahim Raisi, from entering the United States to attend the United Nations’ annual general assembly later this year.
In a letter sent late Tuesday, the group of senators led by Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) petitioned the Biden administration to deny visas to Raisi and other Iranian government diplomats, citing Raisi’s leading role in a 1988 "death commission" that approved the mass murder of Iranian dissidents. While the United States typically permits Iranian officials limited access in New York City to attend the U.N. gathering, this would be the first time a known mass murderer is given a visa.
"Ebrahim Raisi should remain sanctioned under U.S. law," the senators wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "If the United Nations General Assembly maintains its current plans to allow some in-person attendance, the White House should deny Raisi and other Iranian leaders visas to attend. Allowing Raisi to travel to the United States—to the same city where the Iranian regime just tried to kidnap a U.S. citizen—would legitimize his repression, undermine America’s moral leadership, and potentially endanger our national security, given the likely presence of intelligence agents in the Iranian traveling party."
Raisi’s election, which was widely seen as rigged, poses a diplomatic problem for the Biden administration as it holds negotiations with Tehran aimed at inking a revamped nuclear deal. Iran recently put the talks on hold to give Raisi and his team time to assume a leadership role. Given Raisi’s close alliance with Iranian supreme leader Ali Khamenei, it is likely the regime will adopt an even harder line in talks in order to gain full-scale relief from harsh economic sanctions.
Cotton and his colleagues say the Biden administration must take a principled stand to show Raisi the United States will hold him accountable for the regime’s past and current human-rights abuses.
"Ebrahim Raisi is proud of his record. In 2018, Raisi defended his role on the 1988 Death Commission, calling it ‘divine punishment’ and ‘one of the proud achievements of the system,’" the lawmakers wrote in their letter, which also was signed by Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), Rick Scott (R., Fla.), and Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.). "In the 30 years since the commission, Raisi continued to subject the Iranian people to extrajudicial prosecution, torture, and execution."
The U.S. government sanctioned Raisi in 2019 for his leading role in the torture and murder of Iranian prisoners, including children. Iran is likely pressing the Biden administration to drop these sanctions as part of a package of concessions being discussed in the nuclear talks. The Biden administration has already dropped sanctions on several Iranian officials and companies, indicating that more concessions could be coming.
Cotton and his colleagues say there is precedent for denying a foreign leader an entry visa. In 2020, the Trump administration denied Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif a visa. In 2014, then-president Barack Obama denied a visa to Iranian ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi, who took Americans hostage in Iran in 1979. And the United States blocked Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat from entering America in 1988 to attend U.N. meetings.
"Ebrahim Raisi’s role in the death commissions, brutal crackdowns on Iranian protesters, and his association with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps should disqualify him from receiving a visa to the United States," the senators wrote.