Former Norwegian Prime Minister held for questioning at Washington DC Airport ‘because he visited Iran'

Kjell Magne Bondevik says the Iranian border stamp had never been an issue before

Harriet Agerholm@HarrietAgerholm
Friday 03 February 2017 15:07
Politician said he was held in a room with travellers from the Middle East and Africa, who were also the subjects of extra security measures
Politician said he was held in a room with travellers from the Middle East and Africa, who were also the subjects of extra security measures

A former Norwegian prime minister was stopped and questioned for around an hour at an American airport because his diplomatic passport showed that he visited Iran.

Kjell Magne Bondevik – who lead Norway's government for two terms between 1997 and 2005 – said he flew into Washington DC’s Dulles Airport from Europe to attend the National Prayer Breakfast.

The high profile series of meetings, luncheons, and dinners attended by hundreds of guests from dozens of countries around the world, along with US President Donald Trump.

But after Mr Bondevik touched down he was questioned by a customs agent who noticed an Iranian visit in his passport.

Despite the document indicating that he is the former prime minister of Norway, he was placed in a room with travellers from the Middle East and Africa who were also facing extra scrutiny.

He said he had to sit and wait for about 40 minutes and then he was questioned for about 20 minutes.

“They started asking me why I had been in Iran and why I was coming to the United States,” Mr Bondevik told Norwegian broadcaster TV2. “There should be no reason to fear a former prime minister who has been on official visits to the country several times before.”

His current role as president of a human rights organisation called The Oslo Centre, had led him to speak at a 2014 conference in Iran.

US President Donald Trump recently approved an executive order stopping travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries – including Iran – entering the US.

The rapid roll-out of the measure at the end of January caused travel chaos and protests, with pre-approved refugees, students and workers with visas and residency green cards stopped from entering the country.

Mr Bondevik said the Iranian border stamp had never been an issue to US border control before the travel ban.

He told the broadcaster that, while he understood the terrorist threat to the US, "one should not treat entire ethnic groups in such a way".

He added: "I must admit that I fear the future. There has been a lot of progress over the last ten years, but this gives great cause for concern, in line with the authoritarian leaders we see controlling other major countries."

In a separate interview with US broadcaster ABC7, he said that officials at the airport told him that the questioning was not to do with the recent "Muslim ban", and was instead related to a 2015 law signed by President Barack Obama following the Paris terrorist attacks.

The law subjects travellers from 38 countries, including Norway, to greater scrutiny if they have visited seven Muslim majority countries — the same nations targeted by Mr Trump's recent executive order.

A spokesperson for US Customs and Border Protection said they were not allowed legally to provide any more details about a person's accessibility review.

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