(CNSNews.com) – The U.S.-sanctioned president of the Iranian regime, implicated in mass extrajudicial executions in the late 1980s, has arrived in New York, to the dismay of Iranian dissidents and Republican lawmakers who had urged the administration to deny him a visa.
As he flew to the U.S. for the annual high-level U.N. General Assembly session, President Ebrahim Raisi left behind him widening unrest over the beating and death in custody of a young woman arrested by “morality” police enforcing the regime’s strict hijab rules.
Police claimed 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died of a heart attack, and when protestors took to the streets of her hometown in Kurdistan province on Saturday, security forces opened fire, injuring several dozen, according to an Iranian Kurdish human rights group, Hengaw.
By Monday, protests had spread to other cities, including Tehran, where demonstrations were held on university campuses, with some women removing their headscarves to protest mandatory hijab regulations. Hengaw reported four protesters had been killed and dozens wounded in Kurdistan province.
“Iranian women should not be subject to arrest, let alone brutal beatings, for how they choose to dress,” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted on Monday. “Iran’s government should listen to those protesting Mahsa Amini’s unconscionable death in police custody, not fire on them.”
Internet services have been significantly disrupted, according to the digital rights monitoring group NetBlocks. The regime has in the past restricted online services in an apparent bid to prevent protestors from using social media platforms as mobilization tools.
Raisi’s visit to the U.S. also comes amid strong criticism over comments about the Holocaust, made during an interview with CBS News’ “Sixty Minutes,” aired on Sunday night.
Asked if he believes the Holocaust happened, Raisi replied, “Look, there are some signs that it happened. If so, they should allow it to be investigated and researched.”
U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, Deborah Lipstadt called the comment “ludicrous and dangerous” and “a form of Holocaust denial,” while National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said it “should be universally condemned.”
Against the backdrop of criticism and the discontent at home – where those protesting Amini’s death were filmed chanting “death to the dictator” – Raisi landed around noon, and headed for his first U.N. engagement, a “Transforming Education Summit.”
There he touted Iran’s culture, “spirituality and ethics,” and rejected and what he called “cultural dominance.”
“The holy religion of Islam is constantly inviting human beings to education, with the aim of administration of justice, and expansion of spirituality,” he told the meeting.
“Unfortunately, the culture of hegemony sees its benefits in preventing other countries from development and by creating an unfair global order, misusing the international bodies and setting up their own cultural and thought systems, try to prevent other countries from progress and development,” Raisi said.
The high-level “general debate” begins on Tuesday, and Raisi is due to address the world body the following morning, several slots ahead of President Biden (whose speech was pushed back a day by Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral.)
“Ebrahim Raisi is a mass murderer serving a terrorist regime,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said on Monday. “It is a complete disgrace for President Biden to allow Raisi to set foot on American soil, especially when Iran is trying to assassinate senior U.S. officials.”
“Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has a record of terrorist activities,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). “He is also listed by the State Department as ineligible for entering the US. Nevertheless, the Biden admin seems set on circumventing these restrictions.”
Last month Cotton, Cruz, and several other GOP senators called on the administration to deny Raisi a visa, citing both his alleged “involvement in mass murder” and the “regime’s campaign to assassinate U.S. officials on American soil.”
The mass murder claim refers to Raisi’s links to the secret executions of thousands of imprisoned dissidents in 1988.
A senior judiciary official at the time, Raisi allegedly served on a four-member “death commission” that supervised the killings. When the U.S. Treasury Department designated him for sanctions in 2019, it cited his involvement in the atrocities.
Last month the Department of Justice said it had uncovered an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) plot to kill former national security advisor John Bolton. He and other former Trump administration officials are reviled by the regime for the 2020 killing in a drone strike of IRGC-Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani.
(In the “Sixty Minutes” interview, Raisi said Iran wanted “justice to be served” over the killing of Soleimani, adding, “We are not going to forget about this.” But when asked if that meant assassination, he said, “That's the type of the actions that the Americans and Zionist regimes are doing in the world, we are not going to carry out the same actions.”)
Under the agreement that established the permanent headquarters of the U.N. in New York City in 1947, the U.S. agreed to allow foreign delegates to enter a demarcated zone for U.N. activities.
“We do take seriously our obligation – and it is an obligation – as the host country of the U.N. under the U.N. Headquarters Agreement,” Price told a State Department briefing last week, when asked about Raisi’s looming visit.
“We are generally obligated to grant visas to diplomats who are traveling to the United States for the U.N.,” Price said, while declining to comment on “individual cases.”
Past administrations have made exceptions, however. PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat was prohibited from entering the U.S. on U.N. business in 1988 due to “associations with terrorism,” and Iranian Ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi was barred in 2014 over his involvement in the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis.