Former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana has been denied a US visa for a past visit to Iran as part of a delegation of involved in the Iran nuclear negotiations in 2013.
Solana was part of the negotiating team that helped broker the landmark nuclear deal during his time as the European Union’s foreign policy chief, a position he held from 1999-2009. He was due to speak at Washington’s Brookings Institution, but later learned he would not be able to enter the US after trying to apply for an electronic visa waiver because of his visits to Iran when he was serving as both a diplomat and one of the EU’s chief nuclear negotiators.
“I don’t think it’s good because some people have to visit these complicated countries to keep negotiations alive,” Solana said after hearing that he had had been denied a visa waiver by the US’ Department of Homeland Security. “I went there (Iran) to represent all those who had been involved in the (nuclear) negotiations…I’ll see what I can do to fix this. It’s a computer – an algorithm – and if you’ve been in Iran lately, they take you out of the system. It’s like you don’t exist visa-wise, because you can’t visit the country.”
Under the Homeland Security system, an individual who has visited any one of the seven “blacklisted countries” of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen since March 1, 2011, are barred from receiving the waiver and have to apply for a visa.
The visa rules date from the Barack Obama administration and is unrelated to Trump’s highly controversial Muslim travel ban that targets six Middle Eastern and African countries.
Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to the US, tweeted appeared to express his displeasure at the news by noting that the blacklist has been in place for some time, but has received little criticism despite its arbitrary nature.
“Strange that our American friends are discovering only now this Obama regulation. Scores of European scholars, parlementarians (sic) and business people have already faced the same constraints.”
Strange that our American friends are discovering only now this Obama regulation. Scores of European scholars, parlementarians and business people have already faced the same constraints. https://t.co/h8jhvIn5bi
— Gérard Araud (@GerardAraud) June 25, 2018
The EU and US have enjoyed reciprocal visa-free travel regimes under a mutual waiver programme for decades. However, under the administration of Donald J. Trump, a growing chorus of his most hardline grassroots isolationist supporters –many of whom have a visceral disdain that is only matched by their suspicion of the world outside of the United States – have begun agitating for the re-introduction of travel visas for the US’ European NATO allies. A move in that direction would likely spark a retaliatory response from Brussels that would see Americans having to obtain visas to travel to the EU for the first time in nearly five decades.
“It’s a bit of a mean decision,” Solana, who served as Spain’s Foreign Minister from 1982-1995, told the Spanish media, “I don’t think it’s good because some people have to visit these complicated countries to keep negotiations alive.”
Solana hopes to have the situation resolved as quickly as possible as he has professional commitments to honour in the US that include doing work for international organisations and serving as a professor at various universities.
The news that Solana had been denied a visa waiver comes amid deepening tensions between Trump’s White House and the European Union. Ignoring the advice of many of his own advisors, Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May despite fierce opposition from Brussels.
Since Trump pulled out of the deal, he has engaged in a series of erratic episodes that have seen him both publicly and privately insult his NATO counterparts and openly mock German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.