September 27, 2019 / 10:24 PM / 2 months ago

U.S. rejects Iran's Zarif request to visit U.N. envoy at New York hospital unless prisoner released

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States rejected a request by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to visit Iran’s United Nations ambassador in a New York hospital where he is being treated for cancer, the U.S. State Department and Iranian U.N. mission said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at "Common Security in the Islamic World" forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Zarif’s request would be granted if Iran released one of several American citizens it had detained.

In July the United States imposed tight travel restrictions on Zarif before a visit that month to the United Nations, as well as on Iranian diplomats and their families living in New York, which Zarif described as “basically inhuman.”

Unless they receive prior approval from Washington, they are only allowed to travel within a small area of Manhattan, Queens and to and from John F. Kennedy airport.

Iran’s U.N. mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi said Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi was being treated for cancer in a hospital not far away in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighborhood. Zarif is in New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations.

“Iran has wrongfully detained several U.S. citizens for years, to the pain of their families and friends they cannot freely visit,” the State Department spokesperson said. “We have relayed to the Iranian mission that the travel request will be granted if Iran releases a U.S. citizen.”

The United States and Iran are at odds over a host of issues, including the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, U.S. accusations - denied by Tehran - that Iran attacked two Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 and Iran’s detention of U.S. citizens on what the United States regards as spurious grounds.

Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, on Monday said that if Iran wanted to show good faith, it should release the U.S. citizens it has detained, including Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen and Princeton University graduate student who was detained in Iran in 2016.

At a news conference in New York on Thursday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran was open to talking about prisoner swaps but that the ball was in Washington’s court after Iran’s release of a Lebanese man with U.S. permanent residency in June.

The United States deported an Iranian woman who pleaded guilty to exporting restricted U.S. technology to Iran on Tuesday. During a visit to New York in April, Zarif specifically mentioned the woman’s case when talking about possible prisoner swaps.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday declined to discuss the possibility of a U.S.-Iranian prisoner swap after the woman’s deportation.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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