Iran Complains to UN Chief on U.S. Visa Refusal for Envoy

Iran filed a complaint to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressing “serious concern” over the Obama administration’s refusal to grant a visa to an Iranian diplomat tied to the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Ghollamhossein Dehghani, the acting head of the Iranian UN mission, submitted a letter to Ban today requesting that the UN General Assembly address the matter, mission spokesman Hamid Babaei said in an e-mail.

The U.S. refusal is “in breach of their legal obligations under international law” and its accord with the UN, Dehghani wrote, according to excerpts of his correspondence to Ban provided by Babaei. “This decision of the U.S. government has indeed negative implications for multilateral diplomacy and will create a dangerous precedence.”

The complaint comes three days after President Barack Obama’s administration said that Hamid Aboutalebi won’t get the visa he needs to enter the U.S. and lead the Iranian delegation at UN headquarters in New York. Efforts to improve strained ties between the U.S. and Iran have been damaged by the standoff over Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s choice of Aboutalebi amid multinational negotiations over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Iran asked Ban to help resolve the dispute and gain U.S. admission for its designated envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi told the official Islamic Republic News Agency earlier today.

International Law

Aboutalebi, who previously served as Iran’s ambassador to Belgium and Italy, has been linked to the student group that led the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The U.S. responded by breaking diplomatic ties with Iran, and since then Tehran’s UN envoy has been its senior diplomat in the U.S.

Refusing a visa to “a representative of a UN 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,” Dehghani said in the letter.

Dehghani urged that the issue be addressed in “extraordinary and urgent manner” by the General Assembly’s Committee on Relations with the Host Country, a 19-member group that manages UN diplomats’ immigration, security and visas.

In 1988, the U.S. denied a visa to Yasser Arafat, then-chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, who wanted to address the UN General Assembly because he “knows of, condones and lends support” to acts of terrorism. The General Assembly session was moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where such visa constraints don’t exist.

’Security Threat’

Following a formal appeal to the committee by the PLO, the UN’s legal office ruled that the U.S. is required to grant the visa under its 1947 agreement with the UN.

The accord “does not contain a reservation of the right to bar the entry of those who represent, in the view of the host country, a threat to its security,” according to the ruling.

The U.S. Congress in 1947 approved the Headquarters Agreement Act, which obligates the American government to grant visas to UN diplomats. Even so, a U.S. president can cite domestic laws to deny visas to individuals deemed to pose a security threat.

While there are no international mechanisms that require the U.S. to uphold its agreement with the UN over its domestic laws, there is an expectation for the U.S. to adhere to international accords, said two UN officials who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.