The decision by the American government to not grant a visa to Iran’s new United Nations ambassador has resulted in increasingly angry protests by Iran. The ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, had his application pending for months before the Obama administration recently announced that it would not grant him a visa. Mr. Aboutalebi, an experienced diplomat, is considered politically toxic in the United States due to his role as a translator for the Iranian revolutionaries who seized the American Embassy and took hostages in Tehran in 1979.
The issue has threatened to complicate efforts on both sides to come to an agreement on other pressing issues that have arisen in the 35 years of estranged relations between the United States and Iran. Both sides are currently attempting to negotiate an agreement in the dispute over Iran’s nuclear activities.
Right now, there is uncertainty over how far the dispute will go. Experts familiar with United Nations history say that there is little Iran can do even if it does have legal grounds to argue that its new ambassador’s rights have been violated. As the host country, the United States might have international law, as well as sympathy on its side.
Iran has scheduled a meeting with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s legal counsel to complain formally about the actions of the United States. The Iranians also requested and received a commitment to schedule an emergency session from a special General Assembly committee that handles complaints about the host nation.
In a letter sent to the 19-nation committee, known as the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the Iranian mission said, “The denial of visa to a representative of a U.N. Member-State is in contravention of the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter including the principles of sovereign equality of states and respect for their sovereignty and political independence.” The committee is led by Cyprus and includes the United States.
Unfortunately for Iran, the committee has no power to override an American decision deny Mr. Aboutalebi a visa, regardless of the sentiments among committee members. A diplomat at the United Nations said, “The bottom line is there is no enforcement mechanism. It’s not as if he will arrive at J.F.K. and be taken in by U.N. security and barged through.” Mr. Ban’s spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, declined to speculate on how the issue will play out, saying, “We’ll have to wait and see what the committee does and what the committee decides.”