US lets Iranian FM enter country for talks at UN, but restricts his movements
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US lets Iranian FM enter country for talks at UN, but restricts his movements

Washington permits Mohammad Javad Zarif to travel to New York, forbids him from moving beyond six blocks of Tehran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/ AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, June 10, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/ AP)

WASHINGTON — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was giving interviews Monday in New York, after the United States issued him a visa for a UN meeting but restricted his movements.

Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington agreed to let him enter, but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan, an unusually harsh restriction.

“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.

“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” he said.

His visit is the latest sign that US President Donald Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to slap sanctions on Zarif as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.

Even from the confines of the mission, Zarif — a US-educated academic who speaks fluent English — sought to take his message to the media, as is his wont on UN trips.

The Iranian mission tweeted photos of Zarif speaking to NBC News as well as the BBC.

The United States, as the host nation of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on United Nations business and only rarely declines.

Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.

Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.

Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times that he would not be affected by sanctions, as he owns no assets outside of Iran.

Trump last year left a denuclearization accord negotiated by Zarif with six nations, including the United States, under former president Barack Obama and instead imposed crippling sanctions, vowing to curb Iran’s regional role.

With tensions escalating, Trump ordered military strikes on Iran last month after it shot down a US spy drone, although he canceled the operation at the 11th hour, saying it would be disproportionate.

The United States generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.

No US diplomats are based in Iran, as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-oriented shah.

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