Iran sees Israeli lobby behind US visa waiver changes

DUBAI: Iran’s foreign ministry said on Monday that Israeli lobbying was behind a new measure passed by the US Congress that will prevent visa-free travel to the United States for people who have visited Iran or hold Iranian nationality.

The measure, which US President Barack Obama signed into law on Friday, also applies to Iraq, Syria and Sudan, and was introduced as a security measure following the militant Islamic State group’s attacks in Paris and a similar attack in San Bernardino, California.

Iran says its inclusion on the list is intended to undermine a nuclear deal that it had reached with world powers, including the US, in July.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in a televised news conference that the US measure had been passed “under pressure from the Zionist lobby and currents opposed to the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme)”.

Citizens of 38 countries, most of them in Europe, are eligible under the US Visa Waiver Programme.

Under the new restrictions, citizens who have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan in the past five years, and those who hold dual nationality with one of those countries, are excluded.

The measure was introduced after 130 people were killed in the IS attacks in Paris on Nov 13.

Several of the attackers had European passports, and some had travelled to IS-held territory in Syria.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday said it was “absurd” that his country should be on the list.

“No Iranian or anybody who visited Iran had anything to do with the tragedies that have taken place in Paris or in San Bernardino or anywhere else,” he said in an interview with the Al Monitor website.

Iranian officials have said the measure will adversely affect bilateral relations.

Some suggest it is effectively a new sanction against Iran that could jeopardise the nuclear deal, which Iran only agreed to on condition of sanctions being lifted.

“Existing sanctions not yet lifted, additional sanctions imposed,” ran the front-page headline of the Iranian daily Kayhan on Monday.

US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote to Mr Zarif on Saturday to assure him that Washington remained committed to the JCPOA, noting that the White House could waive the new requirements in individual cases.

But Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, which is responsible for ensuring the US and other powers abide by the deal, warned that the measures would drive mistrust between the two countries.

“It could have irreversible effects on the implementation of mutual commitments under the JCPOA,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

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