Kirk to Kerry: Don’t Waver on Anti-Terrorist Measures to Placate Iran

Leads 13 Senators in Letter Urging Administration to Uphold Anti-Terrorist Reforms

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) this week led a letter with Senators Dan Sullivan, Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to Secretary of State John Kerry regarding his recent assurances to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that new Visa Waiver Program (VWP) restrictions would not impact Iranian interests. The Kirk letter is critical of Secretary Kerry’s attempt to reassure Iran. The letter highlights the fact that U.S. law is not the problem, but Iran’s continued support for terrorism. The Senators ask the Secretary to make this clear in future interactions with his counterpart, as well as the fact that these reforms were drafted to address U.S. national security interests, not Iranian interests.

“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.” 

A copy of the letter can be seen below and here.

January 13, 2016 

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520 

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.