U.S. President Donald Trump has stepped up pressure on Tehran, authorizing the State Department to bar senior Iranian officials and family members from entering the United States as immigrants or nonimmigrants.
A White House proclamation announced on September 25 quoted Trump as saying that “the unrestricted immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States [of these people] would…be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and that their entry should be subject to certain restrictions, limitations, and exceptions.”
Trump in the proclamation accused the Iranian government of behavior that “threatens peace and stability in the Middle East and beyond.”
“I have determined that it is in the interest of the United States to take action to restrict and suspend the entry into the United States, as immigrants or non immigrants, of senior government officials of Iran, and their immediate family members,” he added.
Iranian officials did not immediately comment.
Tensions have risen between the two countries since Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with six world powers and began reimposing sanctions that had been lifted in return for curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program.
The latest action came hours after Iranian President Hassan Rohani told the UN General Assembly that Tehran would not negotiate on its nuclear program as long as it remains under sanctions, and accused the United States of “merciless economic terrorism.”
It also came as more than 80 top Iranian diplomats and aides were in New York for the assembly.
The New York Times reported that the travel ban was not expected to force them to leave. The United States, under UN agreement, issues visas to allow foreign leaders to come to United Nations headquarters, but it can restrict their movements while in New York.
The proclamation did not specify individuals but listed “senior officials of the government of Iran…and the immediate family members of senior officials of the government of Iran.”
It said the people covered under the proclamation will be identified by the secretary of state at “his or her sole discretion.”
Reuters quoted a State Department spokeswoman as saying, “The government of Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The regime has destabilized the Persian Gulf region with attacks on oil and shipping infrastructure.”
“Allowing senior Iranian regime officials or their family members to continue to travel to the United States would be counter to our interests and be seen as turning a blind eye to [Iran’s] actions,” she said, citing Tehran’s support for Huthi rebels in Yemen and Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria.
Trump’s order provided some exceptions from the ban, saying they would not apply to lawful U.S. permanent residents, those granted asylum, or refugees already admitted to the United States.
Further possible exceptions were included for people whose entry “would further important…law-enforcement objectives.”
Earlier in the day, the U.S. Treasury Department announced it had placed sanctions on 11 Chinese nationals and entities it accused of knowingly transferring oil from Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.