What Happens To An Iranian In A US Embassy?

As recent as December 2011, Secretary of states, Hillary Clinton, in a video message announced the opening of a virtual consulate for Iranians in order to develop more of a dialogue with Iranian people using new technologies to compensate for the lack of a real embassy in Tehran. No matter how important this step is, no one can ignore the process of applying for the US visa for Iranian applicants is being handled in the real embassies of the US in Dubai and Turkey. Not only is there not much success to connect with Iranian people in these real embassies, that many Iranians leave these embassies filled with frustration and anger and a very strong sense of dislike of the country they had excitingly travelled a long way to get interviewed for its visa in Turkey or Dubai.

Interestingly, the main reason behind this frustration and anger is not the fact that these people are denied a visa to the US, but the way the process of denying the visa happens. First of all, Iranians have to travel to Dubai, Ankara, or some other countries in order to get interviewed to get the US visa. Many of them also should pay some agencies up to $100 to be able to reserve an appointment in consulate, because getting an appointment is highly competitive; they should pay $300 to the embassy for visa interview and the Homeland Security Section; adding the cost of the visa to Dubai as well as plane ticket, and hotel and other expenses shows how costly is this application. An Iranian citizen after spending so much money as well as much time to manage this complicated process reaches the US embassy in which after so much security check point is guided to an interview room, where five to ten Iranian applicants are being interviewed at the same time.

In fact, the previously mentioned frustration comes from the interview room. Most of the time, and of course not always, the visa applicants face with a person who is not that friendly. Then, the interview for the sake of which the person has travelled a long way is very short and most of the time nonsense; in their interview many of the applicants are being rejected for some very silly reasons; I called them silly because the reasons that are being mentioned to deny visa to an Iranian applicant are known to the interviewers before the interview. The frustration, anger, or dislike is not because Iranian applicants are being rejected but because of these very ridiculous, irrational, and contradictory reasoning. This is when all the tiredness of travelling, money spending, time and energy are felt to be in vain and cause the person the frustration. You may ask what are the reasons that I claim to be ridiculous, illogical and contradictory?

Let’s begin with an example that clarifies my point about the process of visa application for Iranians the best. Imagine a company puts some ads on to hire some people. In the first step, people should fill out some forms to give some personal information, including history of their education, previous jobs, the reason for which they are not in that job any more, their race and ethnicity, and so on. Now an African-American has got to the interview step which is the next step; in the interview, however, he is denied the job, because of the color of his skin. He is frustrated to death not because he is denied that job, or racial matters, or anything of this type but the fact that before the interview they knew that his color of skin is black, or they could have said that black people should not apply. This is exactly the story of many Iranians in the US embassies who have denied the visa to the US.

Here I am going to present some of the reasons for the sake of which people were denied the US visa. First I start with a person I talked to recently who wanted to visit a family friend, a physician in Michigan. Last May 2012 was his second try to get a visiting visa to the US.

This is his narration of what happened to him:

The first Interview: In my interview, I was told that because I do not have Schengen visa I am not qualified to enter in the US. I was rejected only for this reason as far as they informed me; So much frustration, because it was something that they knew about me before coming to the consulate; in the forms I had filled, I had listed all my trips and no trip to Europe. Were not they able to tell me this in an email? Of course they were.

With my wife, I found this opportunity to travel to France for two weeks in order to meet the need to have a Schengen visa in my passport.

The Second Interview: After making an appointment, booking hotel, $300 payment to the embassy, I reached to the interview room.

The interviewer asked me to give him the print of my bank account information. I gave it to him. While he was looking at his computer’s monitor and reading the prints, he told me that you have not travelled enough; also you are young (I am almost 40 years old.) He said that I am not qualified. I said I am financially stable, so I should travel when I am young and have energy. I suggested if he needs more prints my bank accounts to be more certain about my financial situation. The interviewer told me that, it is not necessary and he agrees with me that I am financially and professionally stable. It was obvious that he was just looking for an excuse telling me “you are young and have not travelled enough.”

What was the logic in these two interviews? First, the person told he needs to have Schengen visa, then he is told that one Schengen visa is not enough and he needs to travel more; then being told that he is too young. First of all, based on the online forms being filled by applicants the embassy is able to see what the age of the applicant is, how much travelling he has done. No necessity for an interview if they are not met some standards by the embassy; through an email the applicant could be informed of his rejection. One of the reasons to interview a person is to see the proof of his financial situation. A person should be asked to interview for the things that are not possible to be known from far.

Let’s look at some other examples of these types. Another lady in the same day was denied the visa because her husband is in laptop business in Iran, one of the items the US has sanctioned Iran on.

A lady whose husband and kids were in Iran was told to be too young to travel to the US. I am emphasizing on her marital status because many people are being rejected because of being single. When you are single it is highly probable that they reject you by saying that you are single and not married. This is different for student visa while they are not emphasizing on marital status that much.

Most of the reasons for the sake of which the US embassies deny Iranians the visa to the US are in the forms that applicant fill when they are back in Iran before coming to Dubai or Ankara to be interviewed, information like age, list of their international trips, their marital status, the business of their spouse, their work and education history, and so one. I would suggest that the US embassies should act like universities; applicants pay a non-refundable fee for their application; their application is processed; then if they are not qualified they are being rejected and informed through email or mail; and of course some people get to interviews, if there is one; in this step some people are not considered qualified based on their interviews and some get in. Therefore, many Iranian applicants could get informed of their rejection by an email or a phone call without being put in trouble to travel to Dubai or Ankara or other parts of the world to get their rejection news in an interview. It saves people’s time, less expenditure for them, less work force for the US embassies, and also saving the US from some anger and hatred because of its irrational procedure for Iranian visa applicants.

Iran and the US, Avoiding a Regime Change Pattern!

Why have the US and its allies plus Israel not intervened in Syria in order to topple Assad’s regime? Many Arab countries, Qatar and Saudi Arabia especially, have been trying to get the US and its allies in NATO to intervene in Syria militarily. Syrian opposition leaders also have been hopeful that the level of violence enacted by the Syrian Army, as well as the Free Syrian Army, will persuade NATO to get involved in Syria militarily, in a scenario similar to Libya; Burhan Ghlioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, said clearly that “[a]ny political solution will not succeed if it is not accompanied by military pressure on the regime. According to the Syrian Opposition, 14,000 people have been killed, yet NATO has not yet shown any intention to intervene. Iran, from the other side, is trying hard to prevent Assad’s fall at the cost of losing its reputation in the Middle East as a defender of national sovereignty against the West and the most important anti-US and Israel voice.

It is worth reconsidering the assumed reasons for which Iran is backing Assad to the extent of standing against the entire Arab world and international community. The common analysis is that “the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s Syria could be similarly ominous for Iran due to alliance with Syria is the centerpiece of Iran’s expanding sphere of influence, a mini-Comintern that includes such clients as Iranian armed and directed Hezbollah” or call Syria “Iran’s Achilles.” However, I believe that the fall of Assad would not change this picture; as long as the Golan Heights are in the hand of Israel, any regime in Syria is going to naturally ally with Iran and Hezbollah, the two most important anti-Israeli forces in the region. It is not, then, rational that Iran has risked its relation with the future Syrian government for the sake of the very unstable Assad. In spite of what other analyses assert, the Assad alliance is not critical to Iran’s security nor determinant in any possible future conflict with the US and Israel. Iran does not want the fall of Assad for one very important reason: to avoid coining a pattern of regime change in the region.

The pattern the Islamic Regime wants to avoid is this: if the people stage an uprising against an undemocratic regime, and after some time the regime leans toward violent repression of the uprising, the West is expected to intervene topple the regime. The Islamic regime knows well that the fall of Assad through a pattern like the one seen in Libya can make Iran a target for the US and its allies. Moreover, any success of regime change in Syria can inspire Iranians to increasingly consider this pattern of regime change for their own country and initiate action on that basis. People can learn from each other, specially when they are from the same region; after Libya, another successful military intervention in Syria can lead Iranians who have experienced a lack of support by the US in June 2009 uprisings in Iran toward reconsidering to initiate new rounds of uprisings hoping a western intervention; this is what has convinced the Islamic Republic of Iran to support Assad’s regime in any cost.

With the Arab League eager for military intervention, now is the best time for the US (and Israel) to stage a military intervention; if the US can topple Assad, dismantle Iran, thereby weakening its proxies in Lebanon (Hezbollah) as the most powerful anti-Israeli force in the Arab world, and also Hamas in Palestine, the US will get the whole package of oppositional power centers. However, US reticence in seizing this opportunity is straightforward: Syria is not important to the US and its allies. In spite of strong propaganda, the West does not consider the Iran-Syria alliance a critical security threat to the West and Israel. Interestingly, the US is reluctant about military intervention in Syria for the same reason that its opponent, Iran, is backing the regime in Syria: avoiding coining a pattern of regime change by Western military intervention in the region and beyond.

The US does not want to coin such a pattern because of the uncertainty embedded in the pattern itself. As long as this pattern is implemented in countries like Syria or Libya, it is not that dangerous, even though it is costly. However, if this pattern is going to encourage people in other countries to revolt, specifically the Persian Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia or Bahrain or even Iran, the pattern will be a threat to the world’s economy; any tension in the Persian Gulf area can lead to sky rocketing oil prices. This is what the US and its allies cannot afford in the current situation of the world economy. If we add the uncertainty related to the regimes that would come to power after the fall of the current ones, the pattern becomes even more opposed to the interests of the US and its allies.

Not a Good Time to Airstrike on Iran

“Ladies and gentleman, we are deep in that window of vulnerability, we could wake up any morning and learn Israeli jets struck last night” said General James Conway in a conference referring to the Secretary of Defense’s words, Leon Panetta, who had said in Feb 2 that ‘there is strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May, or June.” Right now, we are “deep in that window of vulnerability” that Gen. Conway talks about; however, this is worth asking if it is really a good time for to Israel air strike on Iran, considering the changes in the world since Feb 2. I would say, no it is not a good time.

Generally speaking the Iran-Syria alliance is not of that importance in the event of an Iranian-Israeli conflict; certainly, in such a case Assad would remain silent and condemn the Israelis for their strike but no action would be seen from his regime against Israel. However, the situation has critically changed now that Assad is losing the control in Syria and his regime is in the verge of collapse. If we imagine an Israeli airstrike on Iran at this time, according to Sec. Panetta’s prediction, there is a high possibility of Iranian retaliation through Assad’s regime; and it would possibly act by launching some of its Scott missiles to Israel or even possibly using chemical weapons to show its support for Iran.

An Israeli airstrike in the present time, let’s say around June, provides an opportunity for Assad’s regime to transfer the chaotic situation in Syria to the entire region to release some of the pressure on its burden. Moreover, Iran has been strongly supporting Assad’s regime financially, logistically, as well as in terms of intelligence assistance; it is completely rational, therefore, that Iran would ask Assad’s regime for a favor, launching some of its Scott missiles on Israel, in response to the Israeli airstrike on Iran.

Timing the air strike for June or sometime around it would possibly lead to a much more chaotic situation in which the entire region will explode and the situation will get even more complicated. We should remind ourselves that in addition to Syria, Iraq is not a stable country yet; if we add Bahrain to our calculation and a chaotic political situation in Egypt, the least thing we should want is an airstrike on Iran that will lead to a much more complicated situation that its outcome is not known.