Iran blocks Congressmen from nuclear inspections

Leading US lawmakers protest how Tehran is not letting them in to visit prisoners and inspect, even as top Iranians visit Washington.

Ari Yashar,

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Three top members of Congress petitioned Iran to let them enter the country and inspect nuclear sites to ensure compliance with the nuclear deal, ahead of a speech by a leading Iranian diplomat in Washington, DC this Friday.

The letter by the three Congressmen - Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-KS) who is a member of the House intelligence committee, Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) - was revealed by the Washington Free Beacon on late Tuesday.

In it, they protest how the governor of Iran's central bank Valiollah Seif is being hosted for a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in Washington this Friday, but by contrast their requests to be given travel visas to enter Iran have been ignored for months.

Pompeo, Zeldin and LoBiondo asked to inspect the nuclear sites and visit American prisoners, and noted the hypocrisy of Iran's position given that US President Barack Obama's administration has repeatedly allowed Iranian officials in.

"It has now been more than two months since we applied, and we would appreciate a decision on our application,” they wrote in a letter addressed to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. "If you reject our visa applications, please provide an explanation."

Noting how Seif is visiting Washington this week, they wrote, "it is clear the American government is allowing Iranian leaders to visit the United States. Further, American and international business delegations are traveling to Iran and have obviously received visas. We trust the same courtesy will be extended to American leaders."

Back in early February the lawmakers hand-delivered their visa applications to Iranian officials at the Iranian Interests Section of the Pakistani embassy in Washington, DC.

Together with their applications they submitted a letter detailing the goals of their visit, including meetings with US prisoners in Iran, briefings on the US sailors who were detained by Tehran earlier this year, and inspections of Iran's nuclear sites.

"Ridicule and delay"

“When we submitted our applications, the deputy director of the interests section, Abolfazl Mehrabadi, informed us that we would receive a reply, though your staff missed their own self-imposed deadline for responding. We have followed up several times with them, but to no avail," the Congressmen wrote.

Noting how the delay forced them to miss observing Iran's recent elections, they added, "with your claims that many moderates were elected, we imagine that there should be no problems now with our trip. However, our straightforward applications continue to be met with ridicule and delay from many Iranian leaders."

A senior congressional source familiar with the situation was quoted by the Washington Free Beacon urging the US State Department to get involved.

"These three congressmen applied for their visas at the beginning of February and it is now April. Why the Iranian government has delayed so much, and why the U.S. State Department has not stepped in to help facilitate their applications is beyond me," said the source.

"If Iranian officials are allowed to travel to the United States, shouldn’t elected representatives of the American people be able to visit Iran?"

Critics of the nuclear deal sealed last year warn that Iran, which continues to display an overtly hostile position towards the US, will be able to acquire a nuclear weapon through the framework of the deal, given that it has Iran inspect its own covert nuclear sites such as Parchin. International inspectors are required to wait 24 days before being allowed in to inspect.

Likewise critics note Iran can simply wait 15 years for clauses of the deal to expire, allowing it to march forward towards a nuclear arsenal.