Saturday, February 07, 2015

Iran: The Iranian Politicians Rumored To Have U.S. Green Cards

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

The Iranian Politicians Rumored To Have U.S. Green Cards 

By Golnaz Esfandiari
February 06, 2015

"Death to America" might be a common refrain in Tehran, but several Iranian officials and parliamentarians reportedly hold documents allowing them to live and work in the United States.

Controversy over Iranian officials and politicians possessing the documents -- which give holders permanent-residence status, allowing them to live and work in the United States -- erupted after a group of hard-line conservatives suggested that a senior official in the presidential office should be dismissed for holding U.S. "citizenship."

The 13 lawmakers, most of whom belong to the hard-line Endurance Front, did not name names, but media have speculated that top presidential aide Mohammad Nahavandian was the target of their criticism.

Nahavandian, who is Iranian President Hassan Rohani's chief of staff, reportedly obtained permanent residency in 1993 while living in the United States. It is unclear, if true, whether his green card is still valid.

The lawmakers warned that government jobs should not be given to individuals who "pledge their oath of allegiance to the flag of foreign countries," adding that Rohani should dismiss the individual or find an appropriate solution.

Rohani's office has categorically dismissed the claim, saying it was a "pure lie" that is "absolutely" not true.

"Recently and with the deepest regret, we saw that a number of respected lawmakers repeated the false defamation by some extremist media affiliated with the Zionists, as a reminder to the president without doing any research or questioning," the president's office said in a statement posted online.

When asked during his weekly media briefing about the alleged dual citizenship of an official, government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht was quoted by domestic media as saying: "This is 100 percent lie, no official in the presidential office has a green card or dual citizenship."

Ebrahim Aghamohammadi, one of the 13, subsequently told that "two to three" government officials are believed to hold green cards, which he said he and his colleagues consider to be "a type of citizenship."

The U.S.-educated Nahavandian has not responded to the controversy.

Reports that he possessed a green card first surfaced in 2006, when The Washington Times and other media reported that he traveled to New York to deliver a message to Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, current Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

More recently, the hard-line website claimed that during trips by President Rohani to New York -- presumably in September 2013 and 2014 when he attended the United Nations General Assembly -- Nahavandian was the only person in the entourage who did not need a U.S. visa.

Foreign Minister Implicated

Nahavandian is far from the only Iranian official or lawmaker whose name has been linked to U.S. green cards.

Media have also made suggestions that current Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has a green card or has applied for one.

The U.S.-educated Iranian foreign minister rejected the claims during his 2013 confirmation hearing before parliament, saying he had never applied for permanent U.S. residence despite being eligible to do so for 10 years. He also said his children were living in Iran.

There are several other U.S.-educated individuals among Rohani's cabinet members, including Communications Minister Mahmud Vaezi, leaving open the possibility that that they obtained permanent residence while living in the United States.

And former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian, a Rohani ally, has a green card.

A source familiar with the situation told RFE/RL that Mousavian obtained his green card "unusually quickly" after he moved to the U.S. in 2009.

Mousavian has published two books in the United States, including his memoirs relating to the nuclear crisis. He has acted as an unofficial government representative while discussing the nuclear issue and U.S.-Iranian ties during his many media appearances and opinion pieces published in the United States.

Two hard-line politicians have also been rumored to have green cards.

One is parliament member Hojatoleslam Morteza Agha-Tehrani, who used to be described as a moral adviser to former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Agha-Tehrani suggested in an interview conducted some four years ago that his green card was not valid anymore.

"Those people who speak about my green card should be asked whether they have seen my invalid [U.S. residency permit]? Do they even know what I was doing in the U.S.?" Agha-Tehrani was quoted as saying by Iranian media in 2011.

Green cards must be renewed after 10 years for holders residing in the United States, and would expire after only two years for those granted "conditional permanent residence."

Reports have also circulated tying former Health Minister and presidential candidate Kamran Bagheri Lankarani to U.S. permanent residence.

The allegations emerged after media reported that Lankarani's father had lived in the United States for more than three decades.

In a 2013 interview with the hard-line Fars news agency, Lankarani said: "while many would kill themselves for a U.S. green card, I stayed in Iran and proudly [completed] my board exam."

An Ahmadinejad adviser who was a frequent contributor to the ultra hard-line daily "Kayhan", academic and author Hamid Mowlana has U.S. citizenship.

In a report issued last week, Iran’s official government news agency IRNA said that Rohani's critics attack him and his team, while ignoring Mowlana's U.S. nationality and the green cards of members of their own camp.