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Iran blames Israeli lobby for U.S. visa changes

Under new restrictions, citizens who have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan in the last five years are excluded from the visa waiver program

Published: Updated:

Iran said on Monday that Israeli lobbying was behind a new measure passed by the U.S. Congress that will prevent visa-free travel to the United States for people who have visited Iran or hold Iranian nationality.

The measure, which President Barack Obama signed into law on Friday, also applies to Iraq, Syria and Sudan, and was introduced as a security measure after the ISIS attacks in Paris and a similar attack in San Bernardino, California.

Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim theocracy staunchly opposed to radicalism espoused by groups like ISIS, says its inclusion on the list is intended to undermine a deal on its nuclear program that Tehran reached with world powers, including the United States, in July, known as the JCPOA.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in a televised news conference that the U.S. measure had been passed “under pressure from the Zionist lobby and currents opposed to the JCPOA”.

Citizens of 38 countries, most of them in Europe, are eligible for waivers under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. Under the new restrictions, citizens who have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan in the last 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 ISIS attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. Several of the attackers had European passports, and some had traveled to ISIS territory in Syria.

Iran says decision ‘absurd’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Friday said it was “absurd” that Tehran should be included on the list.

“No Iranian nor 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 Middle East-focused website Al Monitor.

Asked whether Iran’s inclusion in the visa law was a backdoor attempt to undermine the nuclear deal, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington that the restrictions applied because Tehran was on the department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

There is no intention to use the visa program “to halt the legitimate business interests of Iran post-implementation” of the nuclear deal, Kirby told reporters at a news briefing.

Iran has been promised a lifting of international sanctions hobbling its economy once it has restrictions on its nuclear program in place as stipulated by its deal with the powers.