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Iran's Zarif says US denied him visa to visit UN in New York

Foreign minister accuses Washington of being 'afraid of the truth' and says rejection 'a sign of the bankruptcy of Trump's regime'
Zarif and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the UN headquarters in New York City, 18 July 2019 (AFP)

Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Tuesday that Washington had denied him a visa for a trip to the United Nations headquarters in New York, where he had planned to attend a UN Security Council meeting later this week. 

Zarif said he had been informed of the visa rejection by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, according to Iran's semi-official news agency ISNA.

Guterres had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday and the pair discussed events in the Middle East, Reuters news agency reported.

"What we know is that the US secretary of state, in a call to the secretary-general of the United Nations, said: 'We did not have time to issue a visa for Mohammad Javad Zarif and we will not issue a visa'," Zarif said.

"The secretary-general responded by saying that it is Iran's right to take part in this session," Tehran's top diplomat said, quoted by ISNA.

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Under the 1947 UN “headquarters agreement”, the United States is generally required to allow access to the United Nations for foreign diplomats. But Washington says it can deny visas for “security, terrorism and foreign policy” reasons.

So far there has been no official confirmation from Washington that it has rejected Zarif's visa application. Although a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Monday that the US had denied the visa. 

Zarif’s comments came as Iran held funeral processions on Tuesday for one of its top military commanders killed in a US drone strike in Iraq last week.

The killing of Qassem Soleimani in Friday’s attack in Baghdad has sparked a war of words between the arch-foes, with Iran vowing "severe revenge" and US President Donald Trump threatening to hit back hard for any retaliation.

The Iranian foreign minister said he had been planning to go to UN headquarters for an open debate on "Upholding the Charter of the United Nations". The Security Council meeting would have given Zarif a global spotlight to publicly criticise the United States for killing Soleimani.

But he said that he had also intended to "raise America's crimes" during his visit to New York.

In a Twitter post, Zarif called the US visa decision a violation of the 1947 UN agreement and asked: "But what are they really afraid of? Truth?”

Zarif also described the visa rejection as "a sign of the bankruptcy of the US government and Trump's regime," according to ISNA.

It is not the first time that Iranian officials have encountered problems when travelling to New York for events at UN headquarters.

Since mid-2019, Iranian diplomats and ministers have been under tight movement restrictions when they are in the United States. They are limited largely to the area around UN headquarters, the Iranian diplomatic mission and the ambassador's residence.

Zarif last travelled to New York in September for the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations - after the United States sanctioned him for implementing “the reckless agenda of Iran’s supreme leader.”

Zarif complained at the time that he was unable to visit the country's UN ambassador in a US hospital.

In December, the UN General Assembly called on the United States to lift restrictions on Iranian diplomats.

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