US Implements Visa Waiver Restrictions For Dual Nationals From Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria

Posted: 6:09 pm EDT

 

The ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016’’ which became Public Law No: 114-113 on December 18, 2015 includes a provision for “terrorist travel prevention and visa waiver program” officially called the ‘‘Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015’’.  The new law which affects dual nationals from WVP countries and Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria includes a waiver to be be exercised by the DHS secretary.  The new law also requires the Secretary of Homeland Security to submit to the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, and the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate a report on each instance in which the Secretary exercised the waiver authority during the previous year.

On January 21, the State Department announced the implementation of the changes to the Visa Waiver Program. Below is the announcement:

The United States today began implementing changes under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act). U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) welcomes more than a million passengers arriving to the United States every day and is committed to facilitating legitimate travel while maintaining the highest standards of security and border protection. Under the Act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

These individuals will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular immigration process at our embassies or consulates. For those who need a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel to the United States, U.S. embassies and consulates stand ready to process applications on an expedited basis.

Beginning January 21, 2016, travelers who currently have valid Electronic System for Travel Authorizations (ESTAs) and who have previously indicated holding dual nationality with one of the four countries listed above on their ESTA applications will have their current ESTAs revoked.

Under the new law, the Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include:

  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria as a journalist for reporting purposes;
  • Individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and
  • Individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.

Again, whether ESTA applicants will receive a waiver will be determined on a case-by-case basis, consistent with the terms of the law. In addition, we will continue to explore whether and how the waivers can be used for dual nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran and Sudan.

Any traveler who receives notification that they are no longer eligible to travel under the VWP are still eligible to travel to the United States with a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate. Such travelers will be required to appear for an interview and obtain a visa in their passports at a U.S. embassy or consulate before traveling to the United States.

The new law does not ban travel to the United States, or admission into the United States, and the great majority of VWP travelers will not be affected by the legislation.

An updated ESTA application with additional questions is scheduled to be released in late February 2016 to address exceptions for diplomatic- and military-related travel provided for in the Act.

Information on visa applications can be found at travel.state.gov.

Current ESTA holders are encouraged to check their ESTA status prior to travel on CBP’s website at esta.cbp.dhs.gov.

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A couple days ago ….

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When You’re Out of the Loop, Don’t Forget That Secrecy Is the Soul of Diplomacy

Posted: 1:26 am EDT

 

As the media reported on the Iran prisoner swap this weekend, HuffPo’s Ryan Grim wrote Here’s Why We Held The Story On The U.S.-Iranian Prisoner Exchange, on January 16. It deserves a good reading because there’s a lesson here somewhere:

One of the four men was Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter who had covered the Iran nuclear talks. Rezaian was being held on baseless charges of espionage in order to try to extract concessions from the Americans. Our source, State’s Chase Foster, was upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal, and it was his understanding that the talks had since collapsed. But as we reported out the tip, we discovered that, unbeknownst to Foster, the talks had never really stopped.
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What added an extra wrinkle to this ethical dilemma was the State Department official, Foster, Schulberg’s on-the-record source. To describe such a situation as unusual wouldn’t do it justice: State Department officials with specific knowledge of prisoner negotiations don’t talk publicly about them. It just doesn’t happen. Yet to Schulberg’s credit as a reporter, Foster was doing so in this case. His frustration motivated him to speak out — and, eventually, to quit his job, which he did late last year.

Any public official willing to air grievances on the record, whether those grievances are legitimate or not, should be thought of as a whistleblower. And if a whistleblower is willing to risk his career and reputation to share information he thinks the public needs to have, a news outlet needs to have an awfully good reason not to run his story. On the other hand, we never asked him not to talk to other outlets or to take his concerns public on his own, which was always an option, but one he didn’t take. And had he known the talks were once again going on, that may have changed his calculus about going public, which in turn was something we had to keep in mind. And it wasn’t something we could share with him.
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When we reached out to the administration, the frontline press folks there were extremely aggressive and served up a bunch of garbage we later confirmed to be garbage. But when we approached administration officials higher up the chain, they told us what was actually happening. They told us that reporters for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal were withholding details of the talks as well, though neither knew of Foster, whose identity we never revealed to the government. They did not put hard pressure on us to hold our story, but instead calmly laid out their analysis of the possible consequences of publishing, and offered confidence that the talks were moving forward and headed toward a resolution.

Read in full here. After reading that, you might also want to read The New Yorker’s Prisoner Swap: Obama’s Secret Second Channel to Iran by . She writes in part:

More than a year of informal discussions between Sherman and her counterpart, Majid Takht Ravanchi, the Iranian Foreign Ministry official in charge of American and European affairs, led to an agreement, in late 2014, that the issue should be handled separately—but officially—through a second channel. After debate within the Administration, Obama approved the initiative. But it was so tightly held that most of the American team engaged in tortuous negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program were not told about it.[…] Brett McGurk, a senior State Department official, headed the small American team, which also included officials from the Department of Justice, the F.B.I., and the intelligence community.

According to NYT, Mr. McGurk’s team sat down with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva for the first time in November 2014, according to an account by several American officials on the condition of anonymity.

HuffPo’s source Chase Foster, a Foreign Affairs officer at the State Department since 2012, was reportedly upset that the U.S. had failed to secure the Americans’ release as part of the nuclear deal according to the Huffington Post.  FAOs are civil service positions at the State Department that typically requires regional or functional expertise.  His LinkedIn profile says that he had an advanced degree in Professional Studies in Persian and speaks Persian. It does not say which bureau he works in.  But by the time he quit the State Department in frustration late last year, the negotiations for the prisoners release has been going on for about 13 months.

Foster was willing to risk his career by speaking on the record. That’s not something we often see these days. His heart was in the the right place, and we won’t blame him for it.  But he may have also forgotten what François de Callières said about secrecy as being “the very soul of diplomacy.”  

If mentorship works at State as it should have, somebody could have counseled him quietly that absence of apparent action does not mean lack of action.  The American team working the nuke negotiations was not even told about the second channel secret negotiations. We would not be surprise if the top honchos at the NEA bureau with decades of USG service were also out of the loop. And no one has even mentioned James O’Brien, the newly appointed Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.

This could have easily gone the other way. We’re glad that it didn’t, that senior administration officials did not dish more garbage, that the journalists listened, and the negotiations worked out in the end.

 

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Former Iran Prisoner: “Oman initiated our release, not the State Department”

Posted: 12:29 am EDT

 

Shane Bauer is one of the three Americans who were hiking in a mountainous region of Turkey near Iran in June 2009 when they were seized by Iranian border guards. He and his friend Joshua Fattal were detained in Evin prison in Tehran for more than two years. He was charged on August 21, 2011 with espionage and illegal entry and given an eight year sentence. On September 21, 2011, one month after his sentence, Mr. Bauer (and Mr. Fattal) was released and allowed to return to the United States.

He is now a senior reporter at Mother Jones, covering criminal justice and human rights. As news broke this weekend about the Iran prisoner swap, Politico reported that he called Clinton’s appeal for more sanctions “totally irresponsible” and accused her of constantly inflaming tensions with Iran. Read Politico’s story here. He also tweeted this:

In October 2011, the NYT had this item about the passing of FSO Philo Dibble. He died on October 1, 2011, 10 days after Fattal and Bauer were released:

Philo Dibble, a career Foreign Service officer who played a central role in the release of two American hikers who had been held in an Iranian prison for more than two years, died at his home in McLean, Va., on Oct. 1, 10 days after the hikers were freed. He was 60.

The cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Elizabeth Link Dibble, who is also a State Department official. Both worked in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, where he was deputy assistant secretary of state for Iranand she is the bureau’s principal deputy secretary.

“Philo really was the lead in the State Department for coordinating all U.S. government efforts regarding the release of the hikers,” Jeffrey D. Feltman, the Near Eastern bureau’s assistant secretary, said Thursday.

While explaining that he could not provide details because “it’s pretty sensitive,” Mr. Feltman said Mr. Dibble had coordinated efforts with diplomats from other nations, including Oman and Switzerland, in trying to free the hikers. (Switzerland has represented American interests in Iran since the hostage crisis of 1979-81.)

We may not know the full story how the release of the hikers went down until somebody from State writes a book about it or do an ADST oral history but some random Internet person actually tweeted what we were thinking:

Emails about the hikers were part of the latest Clinton email dump. Below is a selection of the emails:

Bauer’s letter to D/S Bill Burns with a redacted request – PDF
Statement of Facts issued by the State Department for Mr. Bauer – PDF
The hikers’ parents letter to President Obama copied to State – PDF
OpsAlert updates during release of two hikers – PDF
Bauer and Fattal statements after release (transcript) PDF

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Photo of the Day: Bottled Water and Pizza in Vienna

Posted: 4:35 pm EDT

Via state.gov:

Secretary Kerry sits with State Department Chief of Staff Finer in Austria While Conducting Negotiations on Implementation of Plan Controlling Iran's Nuclear Program U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer at the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna, Austria, on January 16, 2015, as they conduct final negotiations before the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action outlining the shape of Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sits with State Department Chief of Staff Jon Finer at the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna, Austria, on January 16, 2015, as they conduct final negotiations before the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action outlining the shape of Iran’s nuclear program.

 

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Americans in Iran Prisoner Swap Arrived in Germany

Posted: 2:20 am EDT

 

According to media report, Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, Marine veteran Amir Hekmati and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini arrived in Germany Sunday and will meet with their families soon.  The three arrived on a flight at Ramstein Air Base via Geneva and were scheduled to undergo medical checkups at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

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But…you mean…diplomacy works? #ImplementationDay #IranPrisonerSwap

Posted: 5:57 pm EDT

 

 

In related news:

And just a few days ago:

Diplomacy is under appreciated because it is often misunderstood.  But when it works, it beats the alternative.

 

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CRS: Former U.S. Hostages of Iran to be Eligible for Compensation

Posted: 12:29 am EDT

 

From CRS Legal Sidebar (PDF) via Secrecy News:

Screen Shot 2016-01-1

 

 

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Americans Held Hostage at US Embassy Tehran For 444 Days Win Compensation After 36 Years. Finally!

Posted: 4:47  pm EDT

 

Very happy to see that this finally happened after so long a wait!

Via NYT:

After spending 444 days in captivity, and more than 30 years seeking restitution, the Americans taken hostage at the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979 have finally won compensation.

Buried in the huge spending bill signed into law last Friday are provisions that would give each of the 53 hostages or their estates up to $4.4 million. Victims of other state-sponsored terrorist attacks such as the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa would also be eligible for benefits under the law.
[…]
The law authorizes payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity for each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still alive. Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd hostage had been released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children are authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000.
[….]
Some former hostages and their family members had expressed frustration at the Justice and State Departments for blocking efforts over the years to get compensation. In a sense, the spending bill represents Congress’s taking control of the BNP Paribas money back from the Justice Department.  Some hostages did not want to discuss the legislation. “It’s enough,” said Barry Rosen, who was a press attaché at the embassy. “We’ve gone through enough.”

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Related posts:

The Iran Hostages: Long History of Efforts to Obtain Compensation (August 2015)

State Dept Updates 3 FAM 4140 Guidelines For USG Personnel Taken Hostage (September 2015)

Former Iran Hostage John Limbert on Bibi’s Bizarre Piece of Diplomacy (March 2015)

November 4, 1979: Iranian Mob Attacks US Embassy Tehran; Hostages Compensated $50/Day (November 2013)

Supremes Say No to Appeal from US Embassy Iran Hostages (May 2012)

Iranian Mob Attacks British Embassy in Tehran — It’s Dejavu All Over Again! (November 2011)

January 20, 1981: The Iran Hostages – 30 Years Later  (January 2011)

Canadian Caper’s Ken Taylor, an American hero dead at 81

Posted: 2:51 am EDT

Ken Taylor, the former Canadian ambassador to Tehran known for his role in the Iran hostage crisis, has died, CBC News reported Thursday. He was 81 years old. We’ve previously blogged about Ambassador Taylor when the movie “Argo” first came out. In 1980, he was awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal. Below is an excerpt from President Reagan’s remarks on June 16, 1981 at the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the former Canadian Ambassador to Iran.

We’re today honoring another act of courage, this one with a happier ending in which the courage and ingenuity were rewarded by success after 79 days. I’d like to sketch briefly the events of those 79 days, to describe not only Ambassador Taylor’s courage but also the contribution of all the Canadian Embassy personnel in Tehran and the Canadian Government in Ottawa.

Four days after the storming of the American Embassy, Ambassador Taylor received a call from five Americans who had escaped from the Embassy when it was overrun. They were hiding, but they were afraid that they’d soon be discovered and captured. Ambassador Taylor immediately recommended to his government in Ottawa that Americans be given shelter. Without any hesitation, the Canadian Government granted the permission. Two days later, the Americans were taken to Ambassador Taylor’s residence and that of another Canadian Embassy family, the John Sheardowns. Two weeks later, another American joined his five compatriots. For 79 days, they lived there pretending to be visitors. I understand they’re the best-read and the most skilled Scrabble players in all of North America.

There were several tense moments in the weeks that followed. At one point, an article was imminent in a Montreal paper which would have disclosed the story of the sheltered Americans. In an admirable display of responsibility, the journalist who had written the article agreed to withdraw it from publication. However, from this article, and more immediately from an anonymous phone call to the Taylor’s residence asking to speak to two of the escapees, Ambassador Taylor knew that the chances of his guests being discovered were high.

At this point, the Canadian Government in Ottawa and the Embassy began the ingenious preparations for an escape. The Canadian Government agreed to issue fictitious passports to the Americans. The Canadian Embassy staff began making flights in and out of Tehran to establish a travel pattern and to learn airport procedures.

Finally, on January 28th, 1980, the Americans packed the bags that were given them by their Canadian hosts with the clothes also given to them. Using their Canadian passports, they flew out of the country. Ambassador Taylor and three others of his staff saw them off and then left themselves. Even this brief outline of those 79 days highlights what a team effort it was.

The Canadian Department of External Affairs in Ottawa and the Canadian Cabinet responded with speed and decisiveness to help an ally. Ambassador Towe is here today representing the Canadian Government. The U.S. State Department is represented today by Ambassador Stoessel, and there were others who were working at the State Department during the crisis who played a part with discretion and skill. And here today also is Representative Daniel Akaka, the sponsor, and several of his cosponsors, of the legislation which resulted in the gold medal which I am going to present today.

Also present today is Lee Schatz, one of the six whom the Taylors rescued, as well as Bruce Laingen and Victor Tomseth, who had to wait a little longer before they could come home.

Mrs. Taylor is here with her husband and was directly involved with him in this deed. She shared the risks. She did much of the work. It was at her residence that several of the Americans were actually staying. And, finally, it’s my great honor to present the medal to Kenneth Taylor whose valor, ingenuity, and steady nerves made possible this one happy chapter in the agony of those 444 days of hostage crisis.

Major Kline. The medal is inscribed by an “Act of Congress, March 6, 1980. Entre amis, appreciation for the noble and heroic effort in the harboring of six United States diplomats and safe return to America. Thank you, Canada.”

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Related posts:

Canadian Caper’s John Sheardown Who Sheltered U.S. Diplomats During Hostage Crisis Dies at 88

Canadian Caper, CIA Exfiltration, Ben Affleck’s Argo and Hurt Feelings

Kerry Appoints Amb. Steve Mull as Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation

Posted: 12:14 pm EDT

 

Last month, Ambassador Steve Mull was rumored to be the pick for the top job on the Iran deal. (see U.S. Embassy Poland: Ambassador Steve Mull Flies in F-16, Reportedly Lands Top #IranDeal Job).

On September 17, Secretary Kerry officially announced Ambassador Mull’s appointment as Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation:

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… I am so pleased to announce the appointment of Ambassador Stephen D. Mull as Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation. As we move past the 60-day Congressional review period, it is vitally important that we now have the right team with the right leader in place to ensure the successful implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which will make the United States, our friends and allies in the Middle East, and the entire world safer.

From his position at the State Department, reporting directly to Deputy Secretary Blinken and me, Steve will lead the interagency effort to ensure that the nuclear steps Iran committed to in the JCPOA are fully implemented and verified, and that we and our partners are taking reciprocal action on sanctions, following the nuclear steps. His immediate team at the State Department will consist of experts with a variety of experience relevant to his task of coordinating inter-agency implementation of the JCPOA, and within State his team will rely on support from the bureaus with lead responsibilities in relevant policy areas, such as our support of the IAEA and sanctions issues. Interagency coordination will involve the Departments of State, Treasury, Energy, Homeland Security, Commerce, Justice, and Defense, as well as others in the intelligence and law enforcement communities.

Steve will draw on the entire range of his 33 years of government service for this critical task. Prior to his most recent position as our Ambassador to Poland, Steve served from 2010 to 2012 as Executive Secretary of the State Department, coordinating responses to a wide range of crises and managing the Department’s support for the Secretary of State. From 2008 to 2010, Steve served as Senior Advisor to then-Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, working on the range of issues related to Iran’s nuclear program and supporting Under Secretary Burns in his capacity as U.S. Political Director in the P5+1 negotiating process. In particular, Steve played a key role in designing United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed additional nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, and marshalling support for its adoption by the Council. He also worked closely with the U.S. Mission to the IAEA in pressing for full accountability in Iran’s nuclear program. Steve traveled frequently to engage with foreign partners and worked across the U.S. government in support of our Iran-related efforts, an effort he takes up once again in his new role.

Read the full statement here.

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