Rep. Lee Zeldin, a critic of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, and two other Republican congressman showed up unannounced at the Iranian interest section office in Washington Thursday to deliver written requests for visas to visit Iran.
Officials there were surprised by the unprecedented request and delivery of a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, said Zeldin (R-Shirley).
But after some phone calls, the Iranian section-office deputy director promised the lawmakers an “initial response” by Monday, Zeldin said.
“There has been a very robust debate here in the United States over what the Iranian leadership’s intentions were in negotiating the Iranian nuclear agreement,” and about how it was going to act when it was in effect, Zeldin said.
“There is no better way to confirm what’s real and what’s not real ... than to be able to report back first-hand observation,” he said.
Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), both members of the Intelligence Committee, joined Zeldin, a Foreign Affairs Committee member, in the request.
The congressman said they want to see Iran’s nuclear facilities, visit with detained Americans, meet with Iranian officials about their recent ballistic missile tests and the Jan. 12 detention of U.S. sailors, and observe Iran’s Feb. 26 elections.
“It’s a very clever move,” said Suzanne Maloney, a Brookings Institution Iran expert. “If we are in a state of some kind of diplomatic dialogue, there really is no reason why we shouldn’t test these channels and put the Iranians on the spot.”
Maloney said she couldn’t recall a sitting congressman visiting Iran or getting a visa. She added, “I’m relatively pessimistic they will receive one.”
Zeldin said he, Pompeo and LoBiondo decided to make their request without notifying leaders in Congress, the State Department or the White House so no one would try to prevent the trip.
The White House had no comment.
There is no U.S. ban on travel to Iran, but the State Department warns Americans “to carefully consider the risks.” On Jan. 16, Iran released four Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, in a detainee swap.
The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations, but Iran maintains an interest section office, affiliated with the Embassy of Pakistan, for visas and similar matters.