The United Nations General Assembly will soon hold its annual meeting in New York City, and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has expressed his intention to attend that meeting in person as part of his nation’s delegation.
That isn’t sitting well with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress, who sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday to urge him to deny entry visas to his Iranian counterpart and block President Raisi from entering the country, Fox News reported.
But that creates something of a predicament for Biden, as Raisi is unquestionably a bad person who has already been sanctioned by the U.S. government, yet is also the elected leader of a regime that Biden is currently attempting to negotiate a revived nuclear deal with.
Iranian president plans to attend U.N. General Assembly meeting
French media outlet AFP reported last week that a spokesman for Iranian President Raisi announced that “preliminary planning” had already been completed with regard to his attendance at the U.N. General Assembly meeting, which begins on Sept. 13.
He did not attend the General Assembly meeting in 2021, ostensibly due to the COVID pandemic, but did deliver a pre-recorded address to the international gathering.
Raisi, who became president in June 2021, was sanctioned by the U.S. government in late 2019 for his “complicity in serious human rights violations,” including a leading role he played in the mass executions of imprisoned political dissidents in 1988 — executions that he has praised even as he has denied any involvement.
Raisi should not be allowed to attend, lawmakers say
According to Fox News, a bipartisan group of more than 50 members of Congress, led by Rep. Young Kim (R-CA), sent a letter on Thursday to President Biden with a request that he exercise his authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act to bar President Raisi and his delegation from entering the country to attend the U.N. meeting.
“We write to strongly urge you to deny entry visas to the United States for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his delegation to attend the United Nations General Assembly’s 77th session in New York this September,” the group wrote.
“The United States cannot overlook Ebrahim Raisi’s direct involvement in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including the 1988 organized mass murder of thousands of political prisoners, among whom were women and children, by the Iranian regime,” the letter stated. “Raisi was a documented member of the Tehran ‘death committee,’ the group responsible for overseeing the massacre. It is highly concerning that Raisi and other members of the so-called ‘death committee’ have not been investigated and charged with crimes against humanity. Furthermore, Raisi continues to publicly defend his role in the 1988 executions.”
“It is unacceptable that the Iranian government continues to back state-sponsored terrorist activities around the globe, including campaigns to assassinate American officials,” the lawmakers continued and referenced an exposed plot to murder former National Security Adviser John Bolton, among others, as well as the fact that Raisi remained under sanctions by the U.S. government.
Statutory authorization and past precedent support denial of visas
The letter from the members of Congress went on to point out several provisions within Section 212 of the INA that authorized the government to deny entry visas to certain foreigners, and also pointed to precedent under the two prior administrations, once in 2014 and again in 2020, when high-ranking Iranian officials had been barred from attending the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York City.
“Given Ebrahim Raisi’s record of supporting terrorism and violating human rights, he should not be afforded the privilege to step onto American soil nor the privilege to address the United Nations General Assembly. We cannot turn a blind eye to perpetrators of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights and cruel regimes that endanger both their people and Americans,” the letter concluded. “We urge you and your administration to carefully consider this matter of national security and to use your authorities under the INA to deny Ebrahim Raisi and his delegation entry into the United States.”