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Russians, Others Complain About Travel Restrictions

November 26, 1996

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ U.N. diplomats complained Tuesday about American rules preventing them and their families from traveling freely in the United States, saying the rules are a vestige of the Cold War.

The United States maintains travel restrictions on diplomats, journalists and their families from China, Russia, Sudan, Iraq, Libya, Cuba, Iran and North Korea.

U.S. officials would not discuss the restrictions, but U.N. officials said on condition of anonymity that they vary depending on the country’s relations with Washington.

Cubans and Chinese, for example, are restricted from traveling without permission more than 25 miles from New York City’s Columbus Circle, at the southwest corner of Central Park. Iraqi diplomats cannot leave New York City at all.

The regulations were established during the Cold War and expanded to include countries including Sudan, Iraq and Iran after their governments were deemed a threat to U.S. national security.

During a meeting Tuesday of the U.N. Committee on Host Country Relations, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Sergey Lavrov, complained the restrictions are an outdated relic of the Cold War.

He said Russian businessmen and tourists are free to travel around the United States.

``However, as soon as you become a staff member of a mission of a certain country to the United Nations or a member of his or her family, you are a potential spy or terrorist,″ Lavrov said. ``The impression one gets is that someone is nostalgic for the times of the Cold War.″

Cuban diplomats also complained about New York City’s decision to designate an area next to their mission as ``Brothers to the Rescue Corner,″ commemorating four members of the Cuban-American exile group killed when Cuban jets shot down two of their planes near Cuba last February.

Other diplomats raised more mundane issues from the cost of medical care in the United States to the lack of awareness of American shopkeepers that diplomats are exempt from paying local sales taxes.

Irish delegate Maurice Biggar, speaking for the European Union, repeated longstanding complaints about immigration services at Kennedy International Airport, especially the lack of special lines for diplomats, who fall under regulations different from other foreigners.

U.S. diplomat Carolyn Willson defended the travel restrictions and said they were being reviewed in light of ``changing circumstances.″

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