Visa Issued for Iranian President to Attend UN General Assembly /
Visa Ineligibility Waived
Decision to Allow Travel In Accordance with Obligations Under UN
Headquarters Agreement and According to US Laws
Renew Call on Iranian Government to Address US Concerns About
Iranian President's Activities During Hostage Crisis / Unresolved
Questions Remain / Diplomatic Communications Through Swiss
Government / Travel Restrictions
QUESTION: Iran. The visa granted to the Iranian President supposedly?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. I have some information for you. Yesterday -- just to back up, I have a few details for you.
On August 5th, the Iranian Mission at the United Nations officially requested a visa for the President of Iran to travel to New York to participate in a high-level event -- a high-level summit -- in connection with the 60th UN General Assembly meeting in September that's going to take place in New York from September 13th through the 18th.
The request was adjudicated according to standard procedures and applicable U.S. law, and yesterday, a visa was issued in Bern, Switzerland. The decision to allow President Ahmadi-Nejad as Iranian head of government to travel to the UN is in keeping with past practice and in accordance with our obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement. The decision to allow President Ahmadi-Nejad to come to the UN is something that we did strictly according to our applicable laws.
This in no way indicates a change in U.S. views or policy towards the Iranian Government.
QUESTION: When this issue first came up over a month ago, we were told that, well, we have to take into account our obligations under the Headquarters Agreement but there were also foreign policy considerations involved as well. That was a month ago. Now, how did you -- I guess you came out on the side of the Headquarters Agreement, but were foreign policy considerations taken into account and was it a close call?
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I can try to fill you on in some of the facts.
MR. MCCORMACK: What happened was that in looking at the application of the Iranian President, we found Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad ineligible for a visa under Immigration and Nationality Act, INA, Section 212(a)(3)(B). At the State Department's request, the Department of Homeland Security waived this ineligibility to allow the Iranian President as Iranian head of government to attend the General Assembly and high-level summit. The ineligibility under 212 (a)(3)(B) applies, when we have, "reason to believe," that the visa applicant is within the scope of that broad provision covering a wide range of past and present activity that is supportive or in furtherance of terrorist activity. The INA requires that we keep visa records confidential. And as a matter of normal procedures, we don't discuss particular details of visa adjudications.
And I will say that our concerns about information suggesting that President Ahmadi-Nejad was involved in the hostage crisis is a matter of public record. We take these allegations very seriously and it is the responsibility of the Iranian Government to address them. We renew our call on the Iranian Government to do so.
QUESTION: Just as a follow-up, have you found out -- you've been investigating this for a month or more. Have you found anything to substantiate those allegations?
MR. MCCORMACK: Again, under 212(a)(3)(B), we did find Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad ineligible. We then requested a waiver of that ineligibility finding and a visa was issued. There are still unresolved questions concerning his activities surrounding the taking of the American Embassy in Tehran and his activities in that subsequent period in which American citizens were held for 444 days. We have not forgotten that. And we call upon the Iranian Government to clarify and to answer these questions that have yet to be answered.
QUESTION: Sean, you have your own investigation. The U.S. Government has its own investigation. Where is that and do you think that that's just going to be open-ended unless answers come from Tehran?
MR. MCCORMACK: Like I said, there are still unresolved questions. And part of the constraint in talking about visa applications is no matter who makes that visa application is that we cannot talk about the details surrounding that. And certainly -- but certainly, the -- our investigations across the U.S. Government all fed in to this decision-making process. I am not at liberty to detail for you what was found as part of those investigations, and the part of the information that went into the process of reviewing this application also included the interviews with former hostages. But again, I can't get into the details of, you know, of this investigation.
QUESTION: I'm not asking about the visa. I'm asking about the investigation.
MR. MCCORMACK: Right. Exactly. But again, the reason why that comes up is, in the context of this visa application, and inasmuch as that was part of the process for looking at this application, I just can't get into it.
QUESTION: But have you -- I mean, can you answer questions that we've gone over before, like have you done interviews now with the hostages?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have done -- we have done interviews with the former hostages, yes. I can't say with all of them, but we have done interviews with former hostages, yes.
QUESTION: And which -- do you say the information gathering in your investigation is complete and you do not yet have an answer?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would say that the information gathering is incomplete, and it's incomplete for the simple reason that the Iranian Government has not answered remaining questions about his activities during this period.
QUESTION: But you have not ruled out the possibility he was one of the hostage-takers?
MR. MCCORMACK: You know, again, I think that there are still open questions concerning his activities during that period, and those questions have been raised by a variety of different individuals, including former hostages. There are questions that remain and we call upon the Iranian Government to answer those questions.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary responsible for making that decision on the waiver?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes. To request the waiver.
QUESTION: On what basis?
MR. MCCORMACK: On what basis?
QUESTION: What did she decide to ask for a waiver?
MR. MCCORMACK: We have -- you know, after reviewing the application, we, as I said, in accordance with our obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement, we have never decide -- we decided to request a waiver of this ineligibility. We have never denied a visa to a head of government or head of state visiting the UN. It's part of our international obligations. I think if you look back at the history, one example, well there are numerous examples that are out there, in terms of heads of state or government that have been granted a visa even though there were some questions surrounding the issuance of that visa.
QUESTION: A small question. Why Switzerland? Why in Bern?
MR. MCCORMACK: I would have to look into -- we would have to look into that for you.
MR. MCCORMACK: I don't have --
QUESTION: They're a protecting power.
MR. MCCORMACK: Well, Switzerland is our protecting power and we use the Swiss Government to have diplomatic communications with the Iranian Government.
QUESTION: Still on this?
MR. MCCORMACK: Yes.
QUESTION: What are the restrictions on his visa? Is he allowed to go anywhere outside of New York City? How long? I know that their length of stay is granted on the border, not by the State Department, but --
MR. MCCORMACK: It's for the -- it's for the period of the high-level summit at the UN General Assembly. And Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad will be subject to the 25-mile travel restriction applied to all Iranians entering the United States for UN business.