Pompeo says US acting legally in denying Iranian official entry for UN meeting

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoPence to deliver keynote at fundraising banquet for South Carolina-based pregnancy center Russia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Winter is here for Democrats MORE on Tuesday said the Trump administration is acting within legal boundaries to deny a U.S. visa for Iran’s foreign minister, following news that Tehran’s top diplomat will be blocked from attending an upcoming session of the United Nations Security Council. 
Pompeo refused to comment on consular matters and visas for individuals traveling to the United States during a Tuesday press briefing where he was peppered with questions about Iran, but insisted the U.S. always complied with the requirements of the United Nations.

“We will always comply with our obligations under the U.N. requirements and the headquarters agreements and we will do so in this particular instance, and more broadly everyday,” Pompeo said. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was denied a request to travel to New York for a Thursday meeting of the U.N. Security Council, where he was expected to address the world diplomatic body on the U.S. targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force.

Zarif accused Pompeo of violating American agreements with the United Nations that allows foreign representatives to travel to the United Nations headquarters regardless of their country's relations with the U.S.

The U.S. and U.N. agreement, negotiated in 1947, outlines visa permissions for foreign nationals whose presence is required at the headquarters. It is unclear if Zarif’s request to attend the Security Council meeting falls within the requirements of essential persons.

The United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday took to Twitter to criticize the decision to deny him a visa, saying it violated the U.N. agreement and accusing the U.S. of war crimes for threatening Iranian cultural sites. Zarif also called U.S. sanctions a form of economic terrorism and described the killing of Soleimani as a “cowardly assassination.”

Zarif often takes to Twitter to communicate with the U.S. and international community, despite the medium being blocked in his country.

Pompeo on Tuesday called Zarif a “propagandist of the first order” and also denied reports that Soleimani was in Iraq on a diplomatic mission pushing a Saudi peace agreement.

“Anybody here believe that?” Pompeo asked reporters. “Is there any history that would indicate that it was remotely possible that this kind gentleman, this diplomat of great order, Qassem Soleimani, had traveled to Baghdad for the idea of conducting a peace mission?  I made you reporters laugh this morning. That’s fantastic. We know that wasn’t true. We not only know the history, we know in that moment that was not true.”

Pompeo is under increased scrutiny over whether the Trump administration is acting within international law over the killing of Soleimani. The secretary said the Iranian general was killed as a preemptive strike to prevent an “imminent” attack that would have resulted in hundreds of American deaths.

Yet the administration has yet to be forthcoming on the specifics of the attack they say Soleimani was planning, and instead refer to the laundry list of crimes the Iranian general is linked to committing, including the deaths of more than 600 U.S. service members in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, and the most recent death on Dec. 27 of an American civilian contractor by an Iran-backed militia in Iraq.

The Soleimani killing came after an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by supporters of the Iran-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah, which the U.S. had attacked and killed 25 militia members in response for the death of the American contractor.

“If you’re looking for imminence, you need to look no further than the days that led up to the strike that was taken against Soleimani,” Pompeo said.