Visa restriction legislation is a violation of JCPOA: ex-Foreign Ministry official

December 24, 2015

TEHRAN – A former Foreign Ministry official says a new legislation by the U.S. Congress, that clamps visa restrictions on people who have traveled to Iran, is a violation of the nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The Congress ratification openly violates the JCPOA,” Hamid Reza Asefi said in interview with the ISNA news agency published on Wednesday.
“While we have not entered the stage of implementing the JCPOA we are noticing that Americans are breaching the JCPOA in the framework of the annual budget,” said Asefi who served as Iran’s ambassador to France and the UAE and held the post of Foreign Ministry spokesman for about nine years.
On December 18 the U.S. Congress passed a measure as part of a national budget bill that will no longer allow citizens of 38 countries - including European countries - who have either travelled to Iraq, Syria, Iran or Sudan in the past five years or are dual nationals of these states, to travel to the U.S. without a visa. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law on Friday.
Asefi said the move goes against international norms and citizens’ right for free travel and also against the global trade rules.
“This move by Congress shows their ill-will,” he remarked.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who had visited New York a conference on the Syrian crisis said the visa regulations could serve as a de facto new sanction on Iran, in violation of the nuclear deal. Zarif also said Tehran could declare the visa rules a breach of that agreement.
“Now it is clear that this new legislation is simply absurd because no Iranian nor anybody who visited Iran had anything to do with the tragedies that have taken place in Paris or in San Bernardino or anywhere else,” Zarif told the Middle East-focused website Al Monitor on Friday.
On Wednesday, he said if the legislation is implemented fully it will definitely violate the nuclear accord.
Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council, who has been leading the effort on Capitol Hill to fight this change, ha said, “If the intent truly is to protect America from ISIS and not target Iran and the nuclear deal, then why is Iran included but travel to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is not? This makes no sense.”
In his interview the former Foreign Ministry spokesman said the letter by Kerry left no doubt that the legislation is against the nuclear deal otherwise he would have “defended the congressional ratification”.
Asefi said while terrorism and terrorists originate from other countries putting the name of Iran among the sponsors of terrorism shows Congressmen’s “ill-will”.
The decision has in fact ignored the rights of European citizens and citizens of other countries who visit the U.S. freely, he stated. “I believe that there is ill-will behind the American move.”
On his analysis behind the legislation, he said U.S. officials are trying to prevent a development of economic and commercial ties between Iran and Europe.
Since the U.S. itself cannot enter the 80-million Iranian market it wants to limit Europeans’ presence, he commented.

---U.S. move will definitely affect Iran’s tourism industry---

“The American Congress approval will definitely leave a great negative effect on Iranian tourism industry” and undermines the hope for an opening in the tourism industry created with the inching of the nuclear deal, he argued.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sent a letter to Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on December 19 listing three instruments that the U.S. government can use to ensure that the new Visa Waiver Reform law does not violate the JCPOA.
The letter read: Thanks for a constructive meeting yesterday. I wanted to get back to you in response to your inquiry about amendments to our Visa Waiver Program. First, I want to confirm to you that we remain fully committed to the sanctions lifting provided for under the JCPOA. We will adhere to the full measure of our commitments, per the agreement. Our team is working hard to be prepared and as soon as we reach implementation day we will lift appropriate sanctions.
I am also confident that the recent changes in visa requirements passed in Congress, which the Administration has the authority to waive, will not in any way prevent us from meeting our JCPOA commitments, and that we will implement them so as not to interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran. To this end, we have a number of potential tools available to us, including multiple entry ten-year business visas, programs for expediting business visas, and the waiver authority provided under the new legislation. I am happy to discuss this further and provide any additional clarification.

---- Psychological effects of the visa restriction will remain---

Even if the U.S. administration ignores this rule its psychological effects will stay and this will affect the tourism industry and Iran’s ties with Europe, Asefi remarked.
He added, “Through official speeches and negotiations we must insist on the violation of the JCPOA by Americans… and insist that Americans should resolve the problem.
“We should also ask Europeans to stand against this American move because this approval will include (citizens of) many European countries specially the three countries of the 5+1 group (France, Britain, and Germany) who negotiated nuclear deal (with Iran).
“The European Union should also react seriously to this issue.”
The former diplomat said Iran should not also trust the letter by Kerry for a “precise implementation” of the nuclear agreement.
He also suggested that prior to the implementation of the deal Iran should enter dialogue with China and Russia about the violation of the deal by Congress.
Asefi added that he believes that the United States has violated its commitments toward the other members of the 5+1 group.