Iran’s president lost his right to visit New York by targeting America
When the world’s leaders arrive in New York next month for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), it will be America’s responsibility to provide protection for each. Preparations are under way to ensure their safety, and the men and women of the U.S. Secret Service, New York Police Department, state and federal law enforcement, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are ready to work in service to our nation. But their duty to protect should not extend to officials who have taken up arms against the United States and her people.
Earlier this year, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ushered a new president into office — Ebrahim Raisi — in a rigged election. The Islamic Republic is no ordinary nation and Raisi is no ordinary leader. The Iranian president is part of Khamenei’s inner circle overseeing the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has attacked U.S. and allied military personnel in Iraq, shot down U.S. surveillance drones over international waters, and is suspected of plotting or carrying out terror attacks either directly or through proxy forces around the world — including the United States.
Raisi also is the rare leader with a rap sheet that includes crimes against humanity. According to the Treasury Department, Raisi is responsible for “cruel, inhuman [and] degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners in Iran, including amputations.” While serving as head of Iran’s judiciary, he provided oversight of the executions of prisoners who were children at the time of their crimes, as well as torture of adult prisoners. Environmentalists, women’s rights and human rights activists, attorneys, journalists and political opponents were targeted, jailed and sometimes executed on his watch. He bears responsibility for the use of torture to force confessions. In 1988, he served on a Death Commission responsible for killing more than 5,000 political prisoners. Trials lasted mere minutes and executions followed immediately thereafter, most often by hanging. The dead were buried in unmarked mass graves.
Raisi is now the political leader of a regime that plotted the kidnapping of an American citizen, Masih Alinejad, and an assassination in a Washington restaurant, according to the Justice Department. And he inherits a tradition of taking Americans hostage in the hope of extracting political concessions. Today, just as I was held hostage for 444 days, at least four Americans are being held captive by the Khamenei-Raisi leadership — Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz and Siamak and Baquer Namazi. The remains of another, Robert Levinson, are being held as a grotesque bargaining chip.
It’s time for President Biden to put the American people first. If he is asked by Tehran to grant a visa for Raisi to come to New York for the UNGA, President Biden should say no. He has the authority to do so under U.S. law, and he should not spend taxpayer dollars or ask Americans to risk their lives protecting the leader of the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.
There is ample precedent for Biden to follow. Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat was denied a visa by President Reagan’s State Department. More recently, the Obama administration denied a request for a visa by an Iranian ambassador involved in taking me and 51 others hostage in 1979. And last year, the White House denied a visa to the Iranian foreign minister.
Raisi has the blood of innocents on his hands. Privately, many Iranians would revel in a decision to deny Raisi a visa to enter the United States. It would be a regime talking point, and it may make it more challenging for President Biden to achieve his goal of stopping Tehran’s escalating violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal.
These should be secondary considerations to the necessity of demonstrating moral authority and principled leadership to the American people and our allies around the world. This is urgently required following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s takeover. The White House should show the world what we stand for as a nation through concrete action, not bureaucratic reports and planned conferences on democracy.
If the White House is to have any credibility in promoting human rights, democracy and the universal values at the foundation of our republic, President Biden should not afford Raisi the privilege of walking on American soil. Not this year, and not ever.
Barry Rosen, the last U.S. Press Attaché to Iran, was one the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran from 1979-81. He is an adviser to United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI) and a founding member of Hostage Aid Worldwide.