U.S. Republican lawmakers on Monday blasted Secretary of State John Kerry for suggesting in a letter to the Iranian regime’s Foreign Minister that the Obama administration could help Tehran get around new visa restrictions passed by Congress, Fox News reported.
“Instead of bending over backwards to try to placate the Iranian regime, the White House needs to be holding it accountable for its recent missile tests, its continued support for terrorism, and its wrongful imprisonment of Americans,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said in a statement to FoxNews.com.
At issue are tightened security requirements for America’s visa waiver program, which allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the U.S. without visas. Under changes in the newly signed spending bill, people from those countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan in the past five years must now obtain visas to enter the U.S.
Officials of the Iranian regime claim the changes violate the terms of the nuclear deal, which says the U.S. and other world powers will refrain from any policy intended to adversely affect normalization of trade and economic relations with Iran.
Kerry responded to these concerns in a December 19 letter to Mohammad Javad Zarif — and suggested the administration could simply bypass the rules for Iran.
“I am also confident that the recent changes in visa requirements passed in Congress, which the Administration has the authority to waive, will not in any way prevent us from meeting our [nuclear deal] commitments, and that we will implement them so as not to interfere with legitimate business interests of Iran,” he said.
Kerry’s letter to Zarif assured that the U.S. would “adhere to the full measure of our commitments.” As for changes to the visa program, Kerry floated several alternative options for easing any impact on Iran – including waiving the new requirements.
“To this end, we have a number of potential tools available to us, including multiple entry ten-year business visas, programs for expediting business visas, and the waiver authority provided under the new legislation,” he wrote.
The legislation indeed includes a provision allowing the Homeland Security secretary to waive the requirements if the secretary determines this “is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States.”
But House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., voiced concern on Monday that Kerry was proposing a “blanket” waiver to accommodate the Iranian regime’s complaints. He said that is not Congress’ intent.
“Contrary to what the Secretary of State seems to be saying to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, it was not and has never been Congress’s intent to allow the Administration to grant a blanket waiver to travellers from Iran in order to facilitate the implementation of the Iran deal,” he said in a statement.
McCarthy said the point of the legislation was to strengthen security and “keep the American people safe from terrorism and from foreign travelers who potentially pose a threat to our homeland.”
Kerry’s assurances also raised concerns that the U.S. may be backing down to Tehran’s complaints while at the same time reluctant to punish the Iranian regime for its own violations.
“Instead of undermining Congressional intent regarding the visa waiver program, the White House should instead focus on Iran’s repeated violations of the U.N. Security Council’s bans on missile tests,” McCarthy said. “Iran’s unwillingness to follow these international agreements should be a red flag that the Iran nuclear deal isn’t worth the paper it is written on.”