- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 10, 2016

President Obama’s attempt to grant a special visa waiver to Iranians who hold passports from other countries as well plays into the hands of Tehran, experts told Congress on Wednesday, saying the regime relies on exactly those dual-passport holders for its terrorism and weapons plans.

Republicans in Congress have accused Mr. Obama of ignoring the law they passed, and he signed, late last year imposing new restrictions on travelers who have visited countries with ties to terrorism, and on those who hold dual passports that include one of those nations. Under the terms of the law those travelers are forbidden from using the visa waiver program, which allows entry to the U.S. without having to undergo a biometric check or face an in-person interview.

Mr. Obama’s Homeland Security Department, though, said it would waive the new restrictions on a case-by-case basis for those with business in Iran or Iraq, in an effort to live up to the terms the president agreed to in last year’s nuclear deal with Tehran.

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Republicans said they were particularly shocked because they negotiated the bill with the administration and specifically ruled out those waivers — and the administration said it didn’t object.

“The White House negotiated in very bad faith,” said Rep. Candice Miller, the Michigan Republican who wrote the law. “I don’t know how Congress can come to an agreement with the White House, with an administration that simply turns around and then breaks the agreement.”

The law includes waiver authority for when the Homeland Security secretary decides that national security is at stake.

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And administration officials testified Wednesday they’ve concluded that harming the Iran deal by not allowing business travel would be a national security risk.

The officials also said that refusing visa-free travel to foreigners who hold passports from both Iran and a U.S. ally could cause those allies to cancel their anti-terrorism agreements with the U.S.

Hilary Batjer Johnson, deputy coordinator for homeland security in the State Department’s bureau of counterterrorism, said she’s heard complaints from officials from Switzerland, France, Japan and the European Union.

“Those countries may not cooperate with us,” she warned, citing that as a national security concern as well.

In the wake of terrorist attacks last year in Paris and California, both Congress and the White House fought over what steps the U.S. could take to try to shut down potential holes in the immigration system. The lone area of agreement was the visa waiver program, which allows visa-free travel to citizens of 38 countries that have promised to share intelligence information with the U.S. ahead of time.

Under the terms of legislation enacted in December, foreigners who normally would be able to enter the U.S. without a waiver, but who have traveled to Syria, Sudan, Iraq or Iran since 2011 — or who hold dual citizenship that includes one of those countries — have to go through the more-cumbersome visa process.

The administration quickly announced its carve-outs for business travelers, and said it is trying to see if it can also issue waivers for dual-nationals.

That would be a mistake, said Emanuele Ottolenghi, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who testified that Iran relies on those dual-nationals for its nefarious activities.

“Clearly, not every dual national is an Iranian agent. But virtually all agents of the Iranian regime who over the past decade were involved in conspiracies to commit acts of terrorism, illicit financial activities, nuclear and ballistic procurement, were dual passport holders,” he told the House Oversight Committee.

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