Russia, Iran, the US and Visas:

The Cold War Heats Up at the UN, a Podcast Explains

by Stéphanie Fillion and Kacie Candela. This article originally appeared on PassBlue.

Image for post
Image for post
Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s top diplomat to the UN, briefing the media, Oct. 16, 2019. Russia and Iran have been vigorously protesting US visa denials to dozens of their diplomats. Our new podcast episode explains their strategy. LOEY FELIPE/UN PHOTO

While Turkey has carried out its plan to invade northeast Syria and the United Nations Security Council has failed to react in a unified way, Russia and Iran have been making their own moves in the UN headquarters in New York, to achieve a political goal: disrupting crucial General Assembly committees.

Welcome back to UN-Scripted, our regular podcast series. Our new episode features a guest host, Sonah Lee, who is a regular PassBlue contributor, talking to Stéphanie Fillion about the reporting process behind PassBlue’s biggest story of the year, so far.

In the episode, we also talk about Barbara Crossette’s big scoop this month, another controversy that is based on an exclusive letter (seen by Crossette), signed by more than 1,300 civil society groups and individuals, and sent to UN Women’s executive director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. The letter expresses serious concerns mostly about UN Women’s seeming bias on decriminalizing “sex work” and how that could figure in next year’s commemorations of certain women’s rights anniversaries.

As reported by Fillion on Oct. 18, for many weeks now, Iran and Russia, supported by a small group of other countries (including China, Venezuela and Syria), have delayed the work of the First Committee, which focuses on disarmament; and the Sixth Committee, which concentrates on legal affairs.

The reason? To spotlight the increasing visa problems that diplomats from Iran and Russia say are hindering their right to work at the UN as member states.

Diplomats from Russia and Iran have been the target of a growing number of visa refusals, delays or restrictions by the United States, they say, and they argue that the US is breaching its obligations under the 1947 headquarters agreement. That agreement was made between the UN and the US (acting as the host country to the UN), and features a “reservation” added by US Congress in 1947, giving the US the right to deny visas for security reasons.

The US has interpreted the agreement with some latitude, occasionally denying visas to high-profile people. In the podcast, for example, we look at the case of the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, Yasser Arafat, in 1988.

But the story of visa issues and disruption of UN committees now looms larger, as the argument Russia and Iran are having with the US is dragging many other countries into the fray, with committee members being asked to take sides. Not many countries, especially allies of the US, want to do that.

To hear the full episode about Russia, Iran, the US and visas, download PassBlue’s podcast, UN-Scripted, or go to Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, Stitcher, Podtail, TuneIn, Castbox, iTunes or Google Play.

Originally published at on October 23, 2019.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store