Monday, December 10, 2012

Iran: US Department of State Urges Citizens Consider Risk of Travel, But Fails to Go Far Enough

Effective December 7, 2012, the US Department of State updated its travel warning to US citizens to "carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran. Dual national Iranian-American citizens may encounter difficulty in departing Iran. US citizens should stay current with media coverage of local events and carefully consider non-essential travel." 

The Department's December 7, travel warning goes on to say, "US citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling or residing in Iran. Since 2009, Iranian authorities have prevented the departure, in some cases for several months, of a number of Iranian-American citizens, including journalists and academics, who traveled to Iran for personal or professional reasons.  

Iranian authorities also have unjustly detained or imprisoned US citizens on various charges, including espionage and posing a threat to national security. US citizens of Iranian origin should consider the risk of being targeted by authorities before planning travel to Iran. 

Iran generally denies the US Interests Section in Tehran [Swiss Embassy] access to imprisoned dual national Iranian-American citizens because Iranian authorities consider them to be solely Iranian citizens; access to U.S. citizens is often denied as well."

COMMENT: In my view, the Department should have discouraged ALL TRAVEL to Iran for US citizens, but particularly for ethnic Iranians who are either native-born or naturalized US citizens, and much more subject to being leveraged. 

Interestingly, on January 9, 2012, AFTER Mr. Hekmati had been sentenced to death, the Department still did NOT strengthen its travel warnings to US citizens, but merely demanded that Hekmati be released. 

Admittedly, the US has instituted economic sanctions against Iran, yet such actions  have yet to result in a kinder, gentler Tehran. 

Needless to say, economic sanctions have not had any effect on traveling Americans. 

One can only conclude that the Obama Administration truly believes that a conciliatory approach to dealing with Tehran will ease the archaic treatment of Americans who travel to Iran in the absence of a travel advisory discouraging travel.  

Two examples of why US citizens should NOT travel to Iran are based on two  illustrative examples that directly affect traveling Americans: 

1. The conviction of Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, 28, a former US Marine, who was in Iran to visit his grandparents, when he was arrested, charged and convicted of spying for the CIA, which, of course, was not the case at all. Mr. Hekmati was arrested in August 2011, denied legal representation and access to Swiss diplomat before or during his trial and sentenced to death in January 2012. His  parents in Michigan have not been notified as to his status. It should also be noted that Mr. Hekmati confessed to his alleged crimes against Iran in perfect Farsi, with the proviso that he was no doubt coerced and his remaining family in Iran threatened; and 

2. As a follow-up to my postings of August 20, 2011, December 9, 2011, January 9, 2012, March 5, 2012, March 6, 2012 and April 28, 2012, retired FBI agent Bob Levinson disappeared on March 8, 2007, while on a consulting assignment on Kish Island, Iran. The FBI has announced a reward of US$1 million for information leading to the safe recovery and return of Mr. Levinson.  

In 2010, a video showing him in captivity was sent to the Levinson family by his captors. 

In addition to his wife, Christine, of 37 years, Levinson has seven children and two grandchildren. The family has been working tirelessly to bring Levinson home safely. “Our youngest son is about to graduate from high school,” Christine Levinson said. “He was in middle school when his father disappeared.” 

In March 2011, the US Secretary of State issued a statement that the US government had received indications that Levinson was being held by a group in southwest Asia. That region includes the border areas of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan. 

If you have information about the Levinson case, contact your nearest FBI office or American Embassy, or submit a tip to https://tips.fbi.gov

http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2012/march/levinson/levinson 

For the complete text of the Department's updated travel advisory, see: 

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_5830