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US refuses Iran top diplomat's request to visit Washington

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian holds a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart in Tehran on September 13, 2023
— Washington (AFP)

The United States said Monday it refused a request by Iran's foreign minister to visit Washington last week, pointing to concerns about Tehran's record including past detentions of US citizens.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reportedly sought to travel to visit Iran's consular interest section following the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

"They did make that request and it was denied by the State Department," spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

"We do have an obligation to allow Iranian officials and other officials of foreign governments to travel to New York for UN business. But we do not have an obligation to allow them to travel to Washington, DC," he said.

"Given Iran's wrongful detention of US citizens, given Iran's state sponsorship of terrorism, we did not believe it was either appropriate or necessary in this instance to grant that request."

Iran last week allowed five US citizens to leave in a prisoner swap in which the United States also arranged the transfer of $6 billion in frozen Iranian funds from South Korea to an account in Qatar.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has played down speculation that the prisoner deal could lead to broader diplomatic movement, such as a resumption of talks on Iran's contested nuclear program.

The news site first reported on Amir-Abdollahian's hope to visit Washington, in what would have been the first by an Iranian foreign minister in 14 years.

The report, quoting anonymous sources, said that Amir-Abdollahian had said he wanted personally to review the consular operation but that his goal may have also been "to generate positive headlines."

The United States and Iran broke off relations after Islamic revolutionaries seized the US embassy in Tehran and took the diplomats hostage for 444 days following the 1979 revolution that overthrew the pro-Western shah.

Iran's interests section in Washington is officially under the flag of Pakistan.

The United States under an agreement as host of the United Nations allows in representatives of all member states but restricts the movement of officials from some nations deemed hostile to the New York City area.

The previous administration of Donald Trump went even further on Iran and confined Iranian officials to a few neighborhoods in New York -- although the New Yorker magazine reported in 2019 that Trump also unsuccessfully sought to invite the then foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the White House.