UNITED NATIONS - Russia has asked for 56 visas from the United States to allow Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his delegation to travel to New York for the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations this month, but so far has received none.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, seen by Reuters on Friday, Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said this was "alarming" because during the past several months Washington had "been constantly refusing to grant entry visas" to a number of Russian delegates for other UN events.
The US takes seriously its obligations as UN host country, said a State Department spokesman, adding that visa records are confidential under US law so it could not comment on individual cases.
Under the 1947 UN "headquarters agreement," the US is generally required to allow access to the UN for foreign diplomats.
But Washington says it can deny visas for "security, terrorism, and foreign policy" reasons.
The relationship between the US and Russia has ruptured since Moscow invaded neighbouring Ukraine in February.
"We process hundreds of visas every year for Russian Federation delegates to UN events," said the State Department spokesman, adding that applications should be submitted as early as possible to ensure timely processing.
"This is especially important because of Russia's unwarranted actions against our embassy in Russia, including the forced termination of local and third country national staff, which have severely limited our staffing and therefore our capacity to process visas," the spokesman said.
Nebenzia said that the necessary applications had been submitted to the US Embassy in Moscow.
UN engaged with US
The 56 visas requested by Moscow include an advance team of diplomats to prepare for the arrival of Lavrov and his delegation for the high-level meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, which begins on Sept 20.
Nebenzia added that no US visas had yet been granted to journalists accompanying Lavrov and the flight crew.
He asked Guterres to "once again emphasise to the authorities of the United States that they must promptly issue requested visas for all Russian delegates and accompanying persons, including Russian journalists."
Guterres and other senior UN officials are in close contact with the US and Russia over the visas, said UN spokesman Eri Kaneko.
"We proactively engage with the US Mission on visas... and liaise with the Mission on specific cases that are brought to our attention. We are doing so in this case," Kaneko said.
The US has long restricted Russian UN diplomats and visiting Russian delegations from travelling more than 40km from New York City without Washington's prior approval.
In February, Washington slapped sanctions on Lavrov, accusing him of being "directly responsible for Russia's unprovoked and unlawful further invasion of Ukraine."
The sanctions freeze any assets Lavrov may have in the US and generally bar Americans from dealing with him.
Nebenzia cited some recent visa issues in his letter to Guterres, saying that Russia's Internal Affairs Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev was unable to travel to New York for a UN Chiefs of Police summit this week.
He said representatives of Russian law enforcement agencies were also unable to attend a UN event this week on countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes. REUTERS