Will Iran Participate in UN General Assembly Even While Harboring Terrorists?

The one factor that unites the most oft-mentioned names on the list of candidates to lead Al Qaeda: They all reside in Iran.

Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin pool via AP
Presidents Putin and Raisi at Tehran July 19, 2022. Sergei Savostyanov, Sputnik, Kremlin pool via AP

If ever a reason were needed to keep the bigwigs of the Islamic Republic of Iran off of American soil, the Al Qaeda succession battle would be it. 

Following this week’s attack that killed Al Qaeda’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahri, many are trying to guess who would succeed him. The one factor that unites the most oft-mentioned names on that list: They all reside in Iran.

Considering America’s interests in the war on terror, then, should Washington allow President Raisi of Iran to participate in next month’s annual meeting of heads of state at the United Nations? Currently Mr. Raisi is scheduled to orate at the UN gabfest’s second day, on September 21. 

Last week the New York Police Department exposed an Iranian-backed terror plot to assassinate an American citizen, Masih Alinejad, at Brooklyn. Also, security has been beefed up around a former national security adviser, John Bolton, a former secretary of state, Michael Pompeo, and other officials who served under President Trump after the discovery of an Iranian plot to assassinate them. 

Add to that list: Multiple top terrorists, who never disavaowed their desire to inflict mass attacks against America similar to those of September 11, 2001, are residing under the protection of the Islamic Republic regime. 

Al-Zawahri lacked the fiery zeal of his leader, Osama bin Laden, whose taped speeches were a major recruitment tool for Al Qaeda, an organization that lost some of its sheen under the leadership of the Egyptian as competitors like ISIS became more attractive to a younger generation of jihadists. 

Now, Al Qaeda is hoping that somewhat younger leaders will help the orgnization regain its place atop the terror food chain.

The most oft-cited name to become al-Zawahri’s heir is that of his deputy, Saif al-Adel. Believed to be in his 60s, the former Egyptian army colonel has been Al Qaeda’s second in command since the death of bin Laden. In that role he masterminded the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. 

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading directly to the apprehension or conviction of al-Adel. Tips, if any, may well come in from members of the opposition to the regime in Iran, since that is where he currently resides. 

Similarly, the Al Qaeda no. 3, Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, is also widely believed to currently live in Iran. The Algerian-born software programmer has served as the organization’s general manager in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and is considered its rising star. Al-Maghrebi is Al Qaeda’s chief of media operations and, just as important, is al-Zawahri’s son-in-law. 

Several other top Al Qaeda figures also live under the good auspices of the Iranian regime. Once one of them assumes the leadership, Tehran may decide to end that hospitality. Yet, when it comes to cooperation in anti-American terrorism, Shiite Tehran clearly sees no religious differences with Sunni zealots. 

The Houthis in Yemen are Zaidis, not Shiites. The Syrian ruling clan is Alawi. While those two sects are dominationally close to Shia, the Tehran mullahs also back, arm, and train strictly Sunni organizations like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Ties with Al Qaeda are no different. 

So what could America do beside keep Iran on the terror list? In 2019 internal debates, members of the Trump administration weighed denying an entry visa to the Iranian president at the time, Hassan Rouhani, who was scheduled to attend the September general debate at the UN General Assembly in New York. 

“At the time Iran was basically a generic sponsor of terror,” one member of that national security team, Richard Goldberg, tells the Sun. Now, citing active assasination plots against Americans, he says, “the idea that you’d allow a terrorist like Raisi on U.S. soil is between outrageous and ludicrous.” 

Denying an entry visa to Mr. Raisi, however, may violate the 1947 Headquarters Agreement between America and the UN. Also known as the host country agreement, the pact obliges America to admit to the country all ambassadors of UN member states, as well as representatives who come to UN events like the annual debate. 

In 2019 the Trump administration settled on an unprecedented decision to restrict the movement of the Iranian president and his entourage to the UN building and the Iranian UN mission. It denied them access to other parts of Manhattan or anywhere else in America. 

Mr. Goldberg, who is now with Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, cites a case in which President Obama denied entry to a would-be Iranian UN ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi. In that case, the Obama administration relied on a 1947 congressional authorization to the president to deny entry to anyone who endangers the safety of Americans. 

American interests and our laws at times clash with UN agreements. Mr. Raisi’s sheltering of Al Qaeda’s top men, as well as his country’s plots to murder Americans, seem as good a reason as any to override the UN Headquarters Agreement.

The New York Sun

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