01.14.16

Daines to Kerry: Congress Doesn’t Make Laws With Iranian Interests in Mind

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senator Steve Daines today criticized Secretary of State John Kerry for his recent attempts to placate Iran’s concerns over the United States’ Visa Waiver Program (VWP) restrictions. Daines also called on Kerry to press the Iranian government, the largest state sponsor of terrorism, to cease its support for terrorist activity and provide tangible evidence of such action. 

In a letter to Secretary Kerry, Daines and 13 of his colleagues ask the Secretary to make clear to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that U.S. national security interests, not Iranian interests, were the impetus for changes to the VWP.

The letter is signed by 13 other senators including: U.S. Senators Mark Kirk (R-IL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), Tom Cotton (R-AR), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT).  

“Iran-sponsored terrorists and militants are responsible for the death of more than 700 Americans,” the Senators wrote. “As you continue to engage with Mr. Zarif, we urge—rather than seeking to placate the complaints of Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism—you to press him and his government to cease its support for terrorism and provide tangible evidence that it is doing so. We also ask you to clarify to Mr. Zarif and his colleagues that these reforms to the VWP were not drafted with Iranian interests in mind, but U.S. national security interests.”

Signed into law last month, the FY16 Omnibus included reforms to the Visa Waiver Program that would prohibit an individual from traveling to the U.S. under the VWP if, since March 2011, they have visited Iraq or any country designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, or if they hold dual citizenship with those countries. These prospective travelers are now required to go through the standard visa application process. 

Iran is a designated state sponsor of terrorism, and these new restrictions apply to individuals who have traveled to Iran or hold dual Iranian citizenship. The provision allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive individuals if it is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States.

Foreign Minister Zarif expressed frustration with these restrictions, and the letter from Secretary Kerry assured him that the new law would not interfere with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the “legitimate business interests of Iran.” 

The full text of the letter is as follows:

Dear Secretary Kerry: 

We are gravely concerned about your recent letter to Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif that sought to allay Iran’s complaints about Visa Waiver Program (VWP) reforms recently signed into law in the United States. 

As you know, the new reforms would prohibit any national of a VWP country who has traveled to a country designated by the U.S. Government as a State Sponsor of Terrorism since March 2011, or who holds dual-citizenship with designated countries, from traveling under the VWP. Instead, these individuals would be required to obtain a visa.  Iran is a U.S.-designated State Sponsor of Terrorism. 

Mr. Zarif, who described reforms to protect the Visa Waiver Program against terrorist infiltration as “absurd,” also had the temerity to ask: “Has anybody in the West been targeted by any Iranian national, anybody of Iranian origin, or anyone travelling to Iran?” 

Iran-sponsored terrorists and militants are responsible for the death of more than 700 Americans.  During the 1980s, Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists killed over 290 Americans in Lebanon—including 241 U.S. servicemen in the Beirut Barracks Bombing of October 23, 1983. During the 2000s, Iran-backed attacks killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan. On July 9, 2015, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Senators:  “I know the total number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines killed by Iranian activities [in Iraq and Afghanistan], and the number has been recently quoted as about 500.”

As you continue to engage with Mr. Zarif, we urge—rather than seeking to placate the complaints of Iran, the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism—you to press him and his government to cease its support for terrorism and provide tangible evidence that it is doing so. We also ask you to clarify to Mr. Zarif and his colleagues that these reforms to the VWP were not drafted with Iranian interests in mind, but U.S. national security interests.

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