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US lets in Iranian FM but limits him after sanctions vow

By AFP - Jul 15,2019 - Last updated at Jul 15,2019

WASHINGTON — Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was heading on Monday to the United Nations after the United States issued him a visa but restricted his movements amid soaring tensions between the countries.

Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington agreed to let him enter but forbade him from moving beyond just six blocks of Iran's UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.

"US diplomats don't roam around Tehran, so we don't see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either," Pompeo told The Washington Post.

"Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda," he said.

The United States, as the host nation of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.

Zarif is scheduled to speak on Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.

A US-educated academic who speaks fluent English sprinkled with self-effacing humor, Zarif regularly uses his visits to the United Nations to take Iran's message to US media and think tanks.

His visit is the latest sign that President Donald Trump's administration appears to be retreating from its vow to slap sanctions on Zarif as part of its "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions would come later that week.

Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.

Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.

Trump last year left a denuclearisation accord negotiated by Zarif with six nations including the United States under former president Barack Obama and instead slapped sanctions, vowing to curb Iran's regional role.

Zarif's restrictions are unusually harsh. The United States generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40 kilometre radius of New York's Columbus Circle.

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