Former Norwegian Prime Minister held for questioning at Dulles Airport
DULLES, Va. (ABC7) —
A former prime minister of Norway tells ABC7 he was questioned and prevented from leaving Dulles Airport for about an hour Tuesday, apparently because he had visited Iran in 2014.
Kjell Magne Bondevik served as prime minister of Norway two separate times, from 1997-2000 and 2001-2005.
He flew into Dulles Airport from Europe Tuesday afternoon and says he was not immediately allowed to leave after customs agents saw in his passport that he had been to Iran.
He showed ABC7 that his passport also indicates he is the former prime minister of Norway, a U.S. ally.
"Of course I fully understand the fear of letting terrorists come into this country," Bondevik told ABC7 outside the Washington Hilton Wednesday night.
But, he said, it should have been obvious he's not a terrorist.
"It should be enough when they found that I have a diplomatic passport, [that I'm a] former prime minister," Bondevik said. "That should be enough for them to understand that I don't represent any problem or threat to this country and [to] let me go immediately, but they didn't."
Instead, Bondevik says he was placed in a room with travelers from the Middle East and Africa who were also facing extra scrutiny. He says he had to sit and wait for about 40 minutes, and then he was questioned for about 20 minutes regarding a trip to Iran in 2014.
Bondevik is president of a human rights organization called The Oslo Center, and in 2014 he went to Iran to speak at a human rights conference there.
Although President Trump's controversial temporary travel ban has led to extra scrutiny of many travelers in the past week, Bondevik says he was told the scrutiny he received had nothing to do with it. Instead, it was related to a 2015 law signed by President Obama.
The law was signed in the wake of terrorist attacks in California and Paris and was aimed at protecting the U.S. from terrorists.
It places extra restrictions on some citizens from 38 countries -- including Norway -- that are part of the U.S.'s Visa Waiver Program.
Citizens of those countries normally do not need a visa to visit the U.S. for up to 90 days, but because of the law they now do need a visa if they have been to Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia or Yemen since March 2011. Those are the same seven countries Trump included in his temporary travel ban.
The Department of Homeland Security's website says there are exceptions to the 2015 law that are granted on a case-by-case basis. Those exceptions include people who have traveled to Iran or the other six countries on behalf of international or regional organizations.
Bondevik says his office contacted the U.S. Embassy in Oslo prior to his trip this week and was told his passport and a separate electronic travel authorization (called ESTA) would be sufficient to enter the United States.
"I was surprised, and I was provoked," he said about being set aside for questioning. "What will the reputation of the U.S. be if this happens not only to me, but also to other international leaders?"
A spokesperson with U.S. Customs and Border Protection says "CBP is prohibited by privacy laws from discussing specifics of any individual’s admissibility review."
Bondevik says he contacted the Norwegian Embassy in D.C. after what happened. A spokesperson said the embassy was "happy that things were sorted out."
ABC7 was told by a source that a wait of an hour is not considered unusual for people entering the country who receive "secondary examinations."
Bondevik came to the United States to attend Thursday morning's National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton.