(Update: Adds comment from Secret Service in the 8th and following paragraphs.)
(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Secret Service is charged with helping to protect foreign dignitaries taking part in the U.N. General Assembly high-level week in New York, but a decision by the agency to tweet out a photo featuring Iran’s U.S.-sanctioned president – whose attendance is highly controversial – attracted some criticism on Tuesday.
“This week, we are all-hands-on-deck in NYC for the 77th UN General Assembly, working with our partners including [the NYPD], [State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service], [U.S. Coast Guard] and more,” the Secret Service tweeted to its 1.1 million followers.
The post included four photos, one of which showed Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi emerging with members of his delegation from a black Chevy Suburban, flanked by presumed Secret Service agents.
(None of the other photos showed a recognizable public figure, although in a separate Secret Service tweet posted several hours later, agents were shown escorting French President Emmanuel Macron.)
The agency’s use of the photo attracted some stunned reaction, not all of it printable.
“They TWEETED a picture of them guarding Raisi?” tweeted Heritage Foundation senior fellow Victoria Coates, who served as senior director for strategic assessment in the Trump administration’s National Security Council.
“The US Secret Service, directed by the Biden Administration, is providing security for a murderous, terrorist dictator who has declared death to America,” commented Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.).
“The Secret Service is the global leader in protective operations,” Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in response to an invitation to comment.
“The primary role of the agency and our partners during the General Assembly is to create a safe environment and protect all world leaders that are recognized by the United States and the United Nations so that they can focus on their important diplomatic work,” he said.
“This is not only part of the mission of the Secret Service but it is also mandated under federal law.”
An earlier statement spoke about the agency’s role at the General Assembly high-level week, which is designated as an annually-recurring National Special Security Event.
“The U.S. Secret Service has assumed its role as the lead agency for the design and implementation of the operational security plan to ensure the safety and security of all those participating in the 77th United Nations General Assembly,” it said.
“As the 77th UNGA gets underway, the U.S. Secret Service is working closely with its law enforcement partners at every level to safeguard hundreds of diplomatic delegations from around the world, providing the protection for which the agency is renowned.”
Raisi’s presence at the General Assembly comes as security forces at home crack down on spreading protests sparked by the death in police custody of a 22-year-old woman arrested by “morality” police enforcing the regime’s strict hijab rules.
Raisi, Iran’s former judiciary chief, was elected president in June last year after a campaign in which the regime barred hundreds of aspiring candidates from running.
He has been under U.S. sanctions since 2019, for human rights abuses including involvement in the secret extrajudicial executions of thousands of imprisoned dissidents in 1988, and the violent suppression of protests after a disputed 2009 presidential election.
This month Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) led a group of 48 Republicans and three Democrats in a letter asking President Biden to bar him.
“Given Ebrahim Raisi’s record of supporting terrorism and violating human rights, he should not be afforded the privilege to step onto American soil nor the privilege to address the United Nations General Assembly,” they wrote
Similar calls came from hundreds of Iranian-Americans, who asked Biden to “stand with the people of Iran in their demands for peace, freedom and a non-nuclear, secular Republic of Iran.”
Iranian-Americans and others are planning to protest near U.N. headquarters on Wednesday, when Raisi is scheduled to address the General Assembly (five speaking slots before Biden).
Advertised speakers at one protest event include former Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran, and Sam Brownback, former governor of Kansas and senator, and former ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.