As widely reported, the United States will deny a visa to Iran’s new Ambassador to the United Nations, Hamid Aboutalebi (the former Iranian Ambassador to Australia, Belgium, Italy and the European Union).
Washington claims that Aboutalebi participated in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, while Aboutalebi, who says he was outside of the capital during that time, clarified that he later served as translator and negotiator.
As with all controversies of this sort (such as with the arrest of the Indian diplomat a few months back), it is always useful to return to the exact wording of the laws and conventions in question. Now, like then, Washington is clearly in the wrong.
This article briefly explains why, referring to the 1947 Agreement, linked below.
Agreement Between the United Nations and the United States Regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations, 1947.
The issue is not a simple one. There is a kind of joint sovereignty over the United Nations district in New York.
United Nations regulations prevail as the default setting so to speak, but US federal, state and local laws both apply. When there is a conflict, the United Nations system wins out until the US position is accepted (if accepted) by a three-person commission.
Section 7 of the 1947 Agreement is basic:
(a) The headquarters district shall be under the control and authority of the United Nations as provided in this agreement.
The next portion of the text shows that US laws can apply within the UN district. Unfortunately for Washington, however, the naming of country Ambassadors (as opposed to staff), within the UN’s New York district, is beyond the reach of American law, as will be shown later…
(b) Except as otherwise provided in this agreement or in the General Convention, the federal, state and local law of the United States shall apply within the headquarters district.
Section 8 clarifies that, unless explicitly stated, US law is subordinate to UN regulations.
The United Nations shall have the power to make regulations, operative within the headquarters district, for the purpose of establishing therein conditions in all respects necessary for the full execution of its functions. No federal, state or local law or regulation of the United States which is inconsistent with a regulation of the United Nations authorized by this section shall, to the extent of such inconsistency, be applicable within the headquarters district. Any dispute, between the United Nations and the United States, as to whether a regulation of the United Nations is authorized by this section or as to whether a federal, state or local law or regulation is inconsistent with any regulation of the United Nations authorized by this section, shall be promptly settled as provided in Section 21. Pending such settlement, the regulation of the United Nations shall apply, and the federal, state or local law or regulation shall be inapplicable in the headquarters district to the extent that the United Nations claims it to be inconsistent with the regulation of the United Nations…
Section 21 is clear on how disputes are to be resolved:
(a) Any dispute between the United Nations and the United States concerning the interpretation or application of this agreement or of any supplemental agreement, which is not settled by negotiation or other agreed mode of settlement, shall be referred for final decision to a tribunal of three arbitrators, one to be named by the SecretaryGeneral, one to be named by the Secretary of State of the United States, and the third to be chosen by the two, or, if they should fail to agree upon a third, then by the President of the International Court of Justice.
(b) The Secretary-General or the United States may ask the General Assembly to request of the International Court of Justice an advisory opinion on any legal question arising in the course of such proceedings. Pending the receipt of the opinion of the Court, an interim decision of the arbitral tribunal shall be observed by both parties. Thereafter, the arbitral tribunal shall render a final decision, having regard to the opinion of the Court.
And now, to the heart of the matter: When a country with UN representation designates a “principal resident representative” to the United Nations, that person fulfills that role automatically.
Article 5 defines the Resident Representatives to the United Nations in Section 15 as follows:
(1) Every person designated by a Member as the principal resident representative to the United Nations of such Member or as a resident representative with the rank of ambassador or minister plenipotentiary.
So, Ambassadors or Ministers Plenipotentiary can be appointed by a country in a non-negotiable manner, under the United Nations regulations.
Lower down, the US does have a right to pursue objections over staff (and even over the principal representatives of a country’s specialized agencies):
(2) Such resident members of their staffs as may be agreed upon between the Secretary-General, the Government of the United States and the Government of the Member concerned…
It seems that the US cannot raise a barrier to Ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi without taking its case to a UN tribunal.
Under the 1947 Agreement, the US must facilitate his access to the UN’s New York district, and to other areas as he pursues his official duties, but Washington can indeed restrict his movement beyond those of his job (no Disneyland).
As Article 5 continues, it explains what happens where there is no diplomatic recognition by the US.
(4) In the case of Members whose governments are not recognized by the United States, such privileges and immunities need be extended to such representatives, or persons on the staffs of such representatives, only within the headquarters district, at their residences and offices outside the district, in transit between the district and such residences and offices, and in transit on official business to or from foreign countries.
This entire case demonstrates the folly of locating the United Nations in what is perhaps the most non-neutral country in the world. What were they thinking? Granted, the restaurants, shopping and nightclubs are top drawer.
Also, Washington should have pursued the matter decades ago if it really had a case against Hamid Aboutalebi. Are there any indictments? No.
Instead, Washington waited, to make a scandal, until this four-time Ambassador was appointed to the United Nations.
Actually, it was not Washington per se that objected; instead, the last-minute complaints were raised by AIPAC, America’s loudest and most hysterical ethnic mafia, which happens to have a choke hold on Congress.
All who hope to politic there must first grovel on that altar.