Aboutelabi in the Eye of the Storm

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Should Hamid Aboutalebi be viewed as a diplomat or as a suspected participant in terrorism?

The Iranians say that he is to be viewed as a diplomat because they say so and because UN laws bar the US from not issuing visas to UN diplomats.

They aren’t open to discussions on Aboutelabi’s involvement in the American embassy hostage crisis affair in 1979. Neither are they open to discuss his suspected involvement in a political assassination in Italy in 1993 nor do they accept the US’s version of “terrorism”.

Is Aboutelabi innocent of these accusations? We’ll probably never find out because he isn’t available for questioning and the Americans feel that Aboutelabi would have to prove his innocence or at least be willing to go to court in order to get a visa.

Either that or he will have to convince President Obama to rescind the bill he signed that effectively bars him from legally gaining entry to the US.

The Iranians are sticking to their guns and are making a big deal of the question of legality since Aboutelabi is a diplomat who is supposed to work in the UN and is therefore under diplomatic immunity. The UN has agreed to look into the legality of this issue but they are now accused by Iran of “dragging their feet” and not doing so fast enough. It seems that denying Aboutelabi his visa is both legal in accordance to the laws of the US and illegal according to the laws of the UN.

Perhaps the US should let Aboutelabi into the country but simply limit his presence to the airport, the UN and travel in between. It would be a more elegant solution that would probably satisfy both sides.

In any case, his status as an ambassador to the UN vis-à-vis relations with the US is weak under these circumstances.

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Iranian Passport Forgery on the Rise in Bangkok

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Some stories have to start from the end. And in our story it’s the fact that Thai authorities placed Alireza Kolmoham, AKA “Mr. Ali”, in the wanted list. His alleged crime? Ties to a gang which provided forged passports to international human trafficking groups.

Mr. Kolmoham is Iranian and he supplies other Iranians with forged passports for various reasons. In some cases, Iranians are trying to flee Iran and emigrate to the West and they hang around Asia, until they can reinvent their identities while in other cases, the owners of the forged passports are Iranian operatives involved in subversion and terror.

Bangkok has become a favorite half-way destination and a market for passports. According to a Burmese forger, the trade in passports in Bangkok is very lucrative and the Thai police are not even close to breaking down on all the forgers and dealers there.

This is specially true for Iranians who are ranked 86 out 93 in Henley Partners’ “travel freedom index” as far as visa restrictions are concerned – Iranians are still welcomed in Bangkok and it was there that another Iranian passport forger, Seyed Paknejad supplied Iranian terrorists with fake passports as I outlined in an earlier post.  He was caught in Malaysia in the possession of 17 stolen New Zealand passports!

Bangkok is becoming infamous on the passport forgery scene due to a large influx of tourists into the country whose passports are stolen or who choose to sell their passports for quick cash. Also, and more importantly, getting in and out of Thailand can be expedited if the forgers know who to pay off. It’s no surprise then that there are an estimated 20 forgery gangs working in Bangkok to date.

Yes, it was “Mr. Ali” who supplied the forged passports to the two Iranians, Pouria Nour Mohammed Mehrdad and Delavar Seyed Mohammed Reza, on board the mysterious Malaysian Airlines MH370 flight to nowhere. It seems that in their case, they needed the passports to emigrate and that any links to terrorism seem slim.

Mr. Ali has disappeared – he is a passport forger, so that should not be a problem for him – and the Thai police are checking to see if he had any connections with the other Iranian forgers working in Bangkok. Unfortunately, the Thais are not sharing all of their information so details are still shady.

We might never have heard of Mr. Ali’s existence if MH370 hadn’t disappeared and that is worrisome. How many forged passports had he supplied until then that slipped through security? Nobody really knows. How many of these forged passports were used by Iranians who were not fleeing Iran but working for Iran? Nobody really knows.

All we do know is that Iranian forgers are supplying Iranians with fake passports at an alarming rate in Bangkok. And you can bet on it that the Iranian operatives know this as well.

Perhaps Thailand should keep a closer look at visiting Iranian nationals and make sure that they return home instead of leaving Thailand under a new identity.

Iranian Diplomatic Abuse Increases Visa Restrictions

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Following President Rouhani’s election and promotion of his agenda to lead meaningful change in Tehran’s foreign policy, a quick thaw in its international relations might have been expected.

Iran’s not there yet.

During the past three months five countries have hardened their visa regulations with Iran, making it more difficult to visit that country. According to this recent article in Farsi, Georgia http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/08/12/georgia-stops-irans-revolving-diplomatic-door/, Oman http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/30/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-1/, Indonesia, Egypt http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/10/08/with-friends-like-these-iranian-diplomacy-in-the-middle-east-part-2/ and now Malaysia seem unconvinced by Rouhani’s moderate rhetoric; instead of opening doors with Iran, they’re slamming them shut.

A few of the mentioned (and other) countries have enforced more stringent visa rules because of diplomatic and other abuses by Iranians on their soil. Some want to pressure Iran to alter its behavior, while others want to stop the flow of refugees from that country.

Of course, the Iranians are trying to put a brave face on the continuing deterioration in relations with countries from their core group, the Non-Aligned Movement (Tehran is group chair, a position it will hold for the next two years). Indeed, Tehran recently announced http://www.tasnimnews.com/English/Home/Single/159110 it is considering lifting visa requirements for certain states. Doesn’t seem like this plan will wash for the time being.

(We wonder whether the Iranians have an ulterior motive behind the move – in addition to boosting tourism – such as bringing in more foreign nationals to promote its darker activities http://shadow-diplomacy.com/2013/09/02/iranian-embassies-recruit-latin-american-students/.)

These developments might seem inconsequential at a time when Tehran is focusing on nuclear negotiations with the . But think again: since his election, Rouhani has been quite vocal about reintegrating Iran into the international community and improving relations with Iran’s neighbors – especially Saudi Arabia.P5+1

The Iranian president clearly has his work cut out for him. He definitely won’t attain his goal as long as the Revolutionary Guards, Ministry of Intelligence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue abusing the tools of diplomacy and fueling world suspicions.

Georgia Stops Iran’s Revolving Diplomatic Door

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Iran has consistently demonstrated its preference for the guise of diplomacy and its tools to overcome challenges created by its nuclear-crisis isolation. This has certainly been the case in Germany, a country which has a disproportionately large Iranian infrastructure and from which it controls subversive activities within Europe. Africa is another region of focus for Tehran in this context, particularly uranium-rich countries such as Zimbabwe.

This blog has already reviewed several cases of Iran’s abuse of diplomatic privilege. This time we’ll look at Georgia.

As of July 1st 2013, “Georgia has unilaterally revoked visa-free travel regime with Iran” that was implemented back in 2010. During the three years that this diplomatic tool – standard among friendly countries – was in place, trade between Iran and Georgia increased by 70%. Travel grew by 420%. And the number of registered Iranian companies in Georgia skyrocketed from “a few dozen to 1,489“.

Such developments were to be expected, in view of Tehran’s dire diplomatic straits against the backdrop of the nuclear crisis. So, too, this development:  the Iranian nationals who heavily invested in Georgian businesses included 150 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) companies.

Not the types you welcome with open arms.

Suspicions that Georgia had become an ideal haven to circumvent sanctions finally led to revoking visa regulations, as well as to freezing approximately “150 bank accounts tied to Iranian businesses and individuals” and refusing to issue licenses to Iranian banks (including an IRGC-affiliated bank) trying to enter Georgia’s financial sector.

It is not at all clear that Tbilisi altered its policy on its own, even if it did see the writing on the wall. A few weeks before its decision, the Wall Street Journal published an expose on the subject. In the background, two US Treasury delegations reportedly paid visits.

Thus another country learned – the hard way – how Tehran abuses diplomacy to exploit the host country and advance its wider goals.