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Iran’s President Orders The Killings of Americans On US Soil. In September, American Taxpayers Will Pay To Protect Him On US Soil.
Biden must designate senior leaders of Iran's government as ineligible to enter the United States, but that should be the first of many steps to punish the Iranian government for its malign behavior.
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Iran’s President Orders The Killings of Americans On US Soil. In September, American Taxpayers Will Pay To Protect Him On US Soil.
In mid-September, an aircraft with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi aboard will land at New York's JFK airport.
Even though the United States does not have diplomatic relations with the Iranian government, from the moment Raisi steps off his plane, he will be under the protection of the US Secret Service.
Raisi, who will be in New York to attend the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, will be greeted at JFK with a large motorcade of fully armored vehicles.
In addition, Secret Service tactical, hazmat, and technical support teams will be deployed as part of the protection Raisi will receive as long as he's on US soil.
A high-level Secret Service source who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity said that Raisi, like his predecessors, will receive a similar level of protection to a sitting US Vice-President.
Leaders from US allies France, Germany, and the UK also receive a similar level of protection.
While Raisi will be enveloped in a significant security bubble thanks to American taxpayers, US citizens who are targets of Raisi's government will be installed in safe houses, apartments, and homes under assumed names, and looking over their shoulders.
Dozens of US Secret Service agents will be ready to take a bullet for a man whose government has authorized and funded operations against innocent US citizens on American soil.
Iranian leaders receiving significant taxpayer-funded protection may be news to some readers, but it's the way it has always been.
US law requires the Secret Service to protect foreign heads of state and heads of government while in the United States. International law also requires the US government to protect embassies, consulates, foreign dignitaries, and diplomats.
And whether it's the law or not, the United States should always protect visiting heads of state and top government leaders. If any of them were to be assassinated or injured, it would be a significant diplomatic and security incident that would put American government leaders at risk in the future.
But the Iranian government's aggression on US soil in the past two years towards dissidents, writers, US government leaders, and other targets of the Islamic Republic makes the presence of President Raisi and other senior Iranian government leaders in the United States unacceptable.
And the fact that US citizens, using taxpayer funds, would be required to protect these Iranian government leaders is inappropriate.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken must decline to issue visas to Raisi and his delegation for the UN General Assembly week.
Blinken should also ban senior Iranian government leaders, including Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, from entering the United States for the foreseeable future.
Every year in September, over 100 heads of state and government leaders, along with their delegations, gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.
Under the 1947 UN headquarters agreement, the United States agreed that it would "not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of representatives of Members or officials of the United Nations."
For 75 years, the US State Department has issued visas, with rare exceptions, to the leaders of nations regardless of the status of their diplomatic relations with the United States.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iranian presidents and foreign ministers have been allowed into the United States for the UN General Assembly week.
Banning Raisi and his delegation from entering the United States may cause more criminal behavior and hostile and provocative actions, but nothing must come before protecting US citizens on US soil.
Blinken should also dramatically reduce the size of the Iranian government's mission at the United Nations. There are currently 14 Iranian diplomats at the Iranian mission at the UN. Under the Trump administration, these diplomats had severely restricted movements and were only allowed to move between JFK airport, the UN, and the Ambassador's residence. Biden released these restrictions when he became president and allowed them to move about the New York area within a 25-mile radius.
Given that the Iranian government is undertaking operations against American citizens in the United States, we must be sure that Iranian intelligence officers aren't at the UN mission under diplomatic cover.
I am an Iranian-American, and most of my family lives in Iran. Taking actions that further isolate Iran hurts my family and all innocent Iranians. But the Iranian government has not only been going past norms; it has been destroying them with zeal.
I am also aware that banning Raisi and other Iranian government leaders may cause some stumbling blocks for the Iran deal, which is in the final stages of negotiation. However, if not allowing Raisi and his delegation to enter the United States causes the Iran deal to fall apart again, that is a price that we must pay for protecting US citizens here at home.
President Biden needs to send a message to all Americans that the hostile actions of foreign governments toward US citizens will not be tolerated and that citizens will always have the protection of their government from foreign powers, particularly within the borders of the United States. The first step he can take in drawing a red line on this matter is to have Blinken ban Raisi and his delegation from entering the United States.
I am not suggesting the hands of the US government are clean. The United States has a long history of meddling in the affairs of other nations, particularly in the Middle East, and it has never fully accounted for its malign behavior. For example, The CIA engineered a coup in 1953 that toppled the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran and replaced him with the Shah. That operation still haunts US-Iran relations to this day.
But Biden's job as president is not to avoid protecting US citizens because the US government made significant mistakes in the past.
An AK-47, a speedboat to Venezuela, and $300,000 in cryptocurrency
The attempted assassination against author and US citizen Salman Rushdie last week is on a long list of malign behavior by the Iranian government and incursions on the sovereignty of the United States and the safety of US citizens.
But it's just one of many hostile actions against Iranians by the Iranian government in the past 40 years. Attempts to intimidate, kidnap, and kill Americans in the United States and around the world slowed down in 1997 when Iran faced significant isolation from the global community. But these operations have ramped up again in the past few years.
On August 1, authorities arrested an Azerbaijani national outside the Brooklyn home of journalist, activist, and US citizen Masih Alinejad. The man, who I won't name, had an AK-47 in his vehicle and had been spotted approaching Alinejad's home several times.
Alinejad has become a significant target for the Iranian government since her massive social media following (7.3 million followers on Instagram) has helped to organize opposition to the regime, particularly around the treatment of women. In July, the Iranian government announced that anyone who sends videos to Alinejad of "anti-government" activities in Iran would be subject to a 10-year prison sentence.
But this wasn't Alinejad's first encounter with a hostile agent for the Iranian government.
In 2021, the US Justice Department indicted four Iranian nationals for plotting to kidnap Alinejad. The plan included a discussion of kidnapping Alinejad in Brooklyn and putting her on a boat to Venezuela (a strong ally of the Iranian government). From Venezuela, Alinejad would have been renditioned to Iran. Once she arrived in Iran, Alinejad would have been tortured and sentenced to life in prison or execution.
If this sounds like something out of a movie, you're right. But unfortunately, it's a horror film that Iranian journalists and dissidents have faced repeatedly in the past 40 years.
Last week, the DOJ announced that it indicted an Iranian national and member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for plotting to murder John Bolton, the former US Ambassador to the UN and Trump's White House National Security Advisor. The member of the IRGC offered an unnamed person $300,000 in cryptocurrency as a payment for assassinating Bolton and suggested they would pay $1 million if they managed to assassinate another unnamed former US official.
Axios reported that the former US official with a $1 million bounty on his head is former US Secretary of State and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Bolton hasn't been National Security Advisor since September 2019 but still has a Secret Service detail due to the threats from the Iranian government. Likewise, Pompeo and Brian Hook, who served under him as United States Special Representative for Iran, both have much-needed protection from the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.
This protection is necessary but costs the American taxpayer millions of dollars annually.
Raisi: A Hardliner's Hardliner
In Iran, the Supreme Leader is the ultimate authority, and presidents are often marginalized, particularly in foreign affairs. But the current crop of leadership is much different than it has been in the past 33 years.
President Raisi is a hardliner and sees eye-to-eye with the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on almost every issue.
He is the most powerful and influential Iranian president in three decades.
Iran's new Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is also a hardliner and was a protege of Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's Qods Force, who was killed by the US Military in 2020.
I'm not one of those Iranian-Americans who thinks the United States should completely isolate Iran and not engage in diplomacy as long as there is a theocracy.
But Ebrahim Raisi is unlike previous presidents who were more moderate. For example, Raisi's predecessor, Hassan Rouhani or Mohammad Khatami who is the most moderate president in the history of the Islamic Republic. He's not even like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was not a moderate by any stretch of the imagination.
Raisi has been at the center of Iran's most horrific human rights abuses over the last four decades. He is a bloodthirsty, brutal authoritarian who is responsible for crimes against humanity.
Before the recent exposure of hostile Iranian intelligence operations against US citizens, some have called for Raisi not to be allowed to enter the United States due to his participation in mass executions of political prisoners in the late 1980s.
In 1988, the same year that the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, he also issued a then-secret fatwa ordering the rapid, mass executions of political prisoners.
In just a few months, tens of thousands of political prisoners were executed without trials. Many of those executed were close to finishing their prison sentences and hadn't been accused of committing new crimes.
International human rights organizations have widely condemned these executions. The mass executions of 1988 meet the definition of crimes against humanity without question.
Raisi and three other Iranian government officials were members of a death commission focused on prisoners in Tehran. There were two dozen other death commissions across the country.
Raisi may have just been one of dozens of death commissioners, but he oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners in Tehran alone.
Raisi played a significant role in these crimes against humanity.
In 2016, an audio tape of a 1988 conversation between Ayatollah Montazeri, Khomeini's protege, Raisi and other members of the Tehran death commission, was released by Montazeri's son.
In the tape, the elder Montazeri says to Raisi and others, "I believe that the biggest crime in the history of the Islamic Republic, which will be condemned by history, happened by your hands. Fighting against ideology with killing is totally wrong."
The Iranian government has barely acknowledged these mass executions. Raisi hasn't referred to them directly, but in 2021 he said, "I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far."
We Are Emboldening The Iranian Government
Even after the Iran Deal (JCPOA) was signed in 2015 and sanctions began to lift, the Iranian government was still engaged in its disgusting behavior toward innocent US citizens.
In February 2016, 40 Iranian media outlets added $600,000 to the bounty on Rushdie's head, which was already in the millions.
Responding to news of the increased bounty, the Iranian government's deputy culture minister Seyed Abbas Salehi told a state news agency, "Imam Khomeini's fatwa is a religious decree, and it will never lose its power or fade out.”
This news of an increased bounty on Rushdie's head came one month after the Iran deal was implemented.
In the aftermath of the assassination attempt on Rushdie, Iranian hardliners made no effort to contain their glee. Kayhan, the newspaper whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Iran's Supreme Leader, wrote: "A thousand bravos ... to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie. The hand of the man who tore the neck of God's enemy must be kissed."
Jam-e Jam, a newspaper controlled by the Iranian government, featured a drawing of Rushdie surrounded by flames on the front page with one of his eyes gouged out. The headline read, "Satan's eye has been blinded."
And most disturbing, given that it comes directly from the mouth of a government official, when asked about the assassination attempt on Rushdie, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said, "In this attack, we do not consider anyone other than Salman Rushdie and his supporters worthy of blame and even condemnation."
The spokesman also said, "by insulting the sacred matters of Islam and crossing the red lines of more than 1.5 billion Muslims and all followers of the divine religions, Salman Rushdie has exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people."
There Must Be A Red Line
When it comes to the repercussions that may come from denying entry to Raisi and his delegation into the United States, I am not naive. I know denying them access will give Raisi even more support with hardliners back home.
In September 2021, Raisi gave his first speech as Iran's President at the UN General Assembly. In the speech, he criticized some of the activities of the US government in the Middle-East and mentioned that the US government was making taxpayers pay for a "lack of rationality."
Raisi is correct; why should the US taxpayer pay for lack of rationality? It's not rational to expect US taxpayers to fund the protection of government leaders who are trying to kill Americans, not in a theater of war, but while they quietly write in their homes or give remarks at literary festivals.
I am not suggesting that the UN deny Raisi the right to address the General Assembly.
Raisi can read what I assume will be another hateful speech to the UN General Assembly via satellite like he did in 2021.
Meanwhile, brave US citizens, especially Iranian Americans, will continue to speak out against the Islamic Republic of Iran despite the threats to their lives.
Raisi and his criminal cohorts can sit in Tehran and stew in their resentment and hatred.
They may not realize that as they are emboldened by the lack of appropriate punishment for their murderous plots and kidnappings, Iranians worldwide are becoming more emboldened against the regime.
That includes me.
For decades, my mom's family, almost all of whom still live in Iran, have been in the crosshairs of the Iranian government. They have made great personal sacrifices for speaking out. I've always been inspired by them but have chosen to focus my work on other matters.
I have often tweeted about Iran, but I have never written and published a piece because I know it will put a larger bullseye on my back.
My mother, who has suffered through significant pain and loss in her life at the hands of the Iranian government, has urged me to be careful.
"Our family has sacrificed enough," she cautioned me in a text message when I told her I needed to speak out more.
But the more Iranians speak out, the harder it is for the government to punish us.
They may kill some of us, but they can't kill all of us.