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US rejects Iran's Zarif request to visit cancer-stricken colleague in New York hospital

Zarif is on tight travel restrictions in New York [AFP]

Date of publication: 28 September, 2019

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Iran's foreign minister had requested permission to visit Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi, who is currently being treated for cancer in a hospital.
A request by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Iran’s United Nations ambassador in a New York hospital where he is being treated for cancer was rejected by the US, authorities confirmed on Friday.

Zarif had requested permission to visit Iran’s UN Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi, who is currently being treated for cancer in a hospital in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighbourhood, just minutes away from where he is staying.

But the US in July imposed tight travel restrictions on Zarif and other Iranian diplomats as well as their families while in the country, allowing them to travel within a small area of Manhattan, Queens and to and from John F. Kennedy airport.

The Iranian FM described the restrictions “basically inhuman.”

But the US State Department said it would only approve the request if Iran released one of several American citizens detained in the Islamic Republic.

“Iran has wrongfully detained several US citizens for years, to the pain of their families and friends they cannot freely visit,” the State Department spokesperson said. “We have relayed to the Iranian mission that the travel request will be granted if Iran releases a US citizen.”

On Monday, Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran suggested that if the Islamic Republic wanted to show good faith, it should release the US citizens it has detained, including Xiyue Wang, an American citizen and Princeton University graduate student who was detained in 2016.

On Thursday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said his country would be open to discuss prisoner swaps but suggested the ball was in Washington’s court after June’s release of a Lebanese man with US permanent residency who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on accusations of spying for the US.

Washington’s rejection came after the US deported an Iranian woman who pleaded guilty to exporting restricted US technology to Iran on Tuesday. Zarif has made mention of the women’s case during a visit to New York earlier this year.

However, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday declined to discuss the possibility of a prisoner swap deal after the woman’s deportation.

Iran has detained a number of foreign and dual national visitors to the country, with some countries accusing Tehran of holding them ransom.

Tensions have escalated between Iran and the United States since May last year when Trump pulled out of the landmark 2015 nuclear accord and began reimposing sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

The deal's remaining partners include Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

European partners have repeatedly said they are committed to saving the deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, but their efforts have so far borne little fruit.

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