“This is because they fear someone will go there and tell the truth to the American people”, Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister said, after the Trump administration declined to issue a visa permitting him to travel to New York for United Nations meetings.
“But they are mistaken”, he added. “The world is not limited to New York. You can speak with American people from Tehran too and we will do that”.
Zarif’s trip to New York (to attend a Security Council meeting on Thursday) had been planned prior to the US drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani. He would have taken the opportunity to decry the assassination, something the Trump administration is in no mood for.
Majid Takht Ravanchi, Iran’s UN envoy, characterized Soleimani’s assassination as “an obvious example of State terrorism and, as a criminal act, constitut[ing] a gross violation of the fundamental principles of international law, including, in particular the Charter of the United Nations”.
If you’re wondering whether the White House can legally deny Zarif access to the UN, the answer is “no”… but also “yes”. Under the 1947 “headquarters agreement”, the US is not supposed to make the UN off limits to foreign diplomats. And yet, Washington reserves the right to deny visas if there are “security, terrorism and foreign policy” concerns.
To be clear, there are no “security” or “terrorism” concerns. It’s not as if Zarif is going to kill anyone. But there are “foreign policy” concerns, that’s for sure.
Still, the US isn’t really supposed to do this, although Trump cares nothing for decorum and has spent the last 48 hours threatening to commit war crimes in Iran, so this hardly comes as a surprise.
Zarif was sanctioned by the US last year and his movements were tightly restricted during multiple visits to New York, including in September, when he gave a number of interviews following the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure.
At the General Assembly, Hassan Rouhani and Trump dedicated much of their speaking time to insulting each other. At one point, Rouhani called the US president an “international pirate”. In that context, consider Trump’s drone strike on Soleimani a loud: “Arrgh!”
But Trump doesn’t get to dictate who attends Davos, and Zarif will be there. According to Tages-Anzeiger, he confirmed his attendance after Soleimani was killed. Iraqi president Barham Salih will be there too, and Trump is expected to make an appearance.
That sets the stage for some amusing visuals, at the least. As Bloomberg notes, Davos “promotes itself as a platform for dialogue and has been the scene of several diplomatic milestones, including talks between Yasser Arafat and Israel’s then-Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in 1994”.
Of course, depending on how the situation evolves between now and January 21, when the annual gathering at the Swiss ski resort is convened, it’s entirely possible that Trump (or Zarif) skips the confab.