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The Coming US-Iran legal battle at the UN

By Kaveh Afrasiabi | Press TV | April 19, 2014

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States have now locked horns at the United Nations in the dispute over Iran’s next ambassador to UN, Hamid Aboutalebi, in light of the US refusal to issue a visa for him and Iran’s stern reaction of lodging a complaint with the relevant authorities at the UN.

By all indications, the coming battle will be fought hard by both sides and may turn out to be time-consuming and involve a lengthy arbitration process. Objectively speaking, Iran’s chance of winning this battle is fair to excellent, because Iran has the weight of international law on its side.

As stated in Iran’s letter of April 14, 2014, addressed both to the UN Secretary General and the permanent representative of Cyprus, the current chair of the UN Committee on Relations with the Host Country, the US is now in breach of its international obligations by refusing to issue an entry visa to Mr. Aboutalebi.

Specifically, the US is now in contempt of its obligation under the US-UN treaty known as the “Headquarters Agreement,” which was signed in 1947. Section 11 of this Agreement expressly prohibits the US from imposing any restrictions on travel to the UN by representatives of UN member states.
Not only that, even the US’s own law, enacted in 1947, which imposes certain restrictions with respect to foreign officials who may pose a security risk to the US, does not give the US government the right to a blanket exclusion.

Section 6 of the US legislations states, “Nothing in the agreement shall be construed as in any way diminishing, abridging, or weakening the right of the United States to safeguard its own security and completely to control the entrance of aliens into any territory of the United States other than the headquarters district and its immediate vicinity.”

Clearly, this section simply does not permit the US to deny entry completely to any individual who has a right of entry, particularly the designated permanent representative of a UN member state.

What lies ahead, then, is a potentially lengthy arbitration process. Section 21 of the Headquarters Agreement provides a specific arbitration mechanism for such disputes between the US and the UN. If the negotiations between Iran, UN, and US at the above-said committee, scheduled for April 22nd, fail, then the matter would be referred to a tribunal of three arbitrators, one to be named by the UN Secretary General, one to be named by 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.

Legally speaking, US’s stated unhappiness with Mr. Aboutalebi over his alleged role with the Iranian students who took over the US embassy in 1979 does not suffice to warrant his exclusion from the UN. As a veteran Iranian diplomat for the past quarter of century, serving in several Western countries, Aboutalebi, who holds a degree from the prestigious Sorbonne University, is well-suited for the designated position at the UN and his credential simply nullifies any lame US excuse that he poses a “security risk.”

Besides, the US and Iran have signed an agreement known as the Algiers Accord in 1981, which has specific provisions regarding the settlement of disputes arising out of the US embassy ‘crisis’ and which are relevant to Iran’s defense of its choice for the top position at the UN. The US is beholden to the terms of the Algiers Accord, which precludes the US from punishing Iran one way or another for the embassy situation.

Clearly, this is a vexing issue for not only Iran but also many other UN member states, particularly those who may have a past or present dispute with the US, in light of the new US legislation that opens a Pandora’s Box by enhancing US free hand to screen foreign diplomats and impose restrictions on them based on criteria that violate the terms of the Headquarters Agreement, thus jeopardizing the future of “multilateral diplomacy” as correctly stated in Iran’s letter to UN mentioned above; as result, the Non-Aligned Movement, comprising the largest UN grouping at the General Assembly, may intervene on Iran’s behalf.

This may be why US President Obama has not yet acted on this legislation, which is Iranophobic through and through and was initiated by the hawkish members of US Congress who are on record opposing the recent nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers. But, sooner or later, the US has to furnish a detailed and official explanation as to why it refuses a visa for Mr. Aboutalebi. But once it does, it will inevitably make more clear the already glaring fact that the US is in contempt of its international obligations.

The fact that Mr. Aboutalebi has entered the US in the past, as part of Iran’s delegation to the UN General Assembly, represents another strike against the US, which would have to be taken into consideration by the UN officials and the arbitration panel, the argument being that if he did not pose any security risk in the past, why should he be so regarded now?

With respect to any US argument that Aboutalebi has violated international law in the past by acting as a US “hostage-taker,” this is not convincing either due to the following: (a) by his own admission, Aboutalebi was not among the hostage-takers and played a limited role as an interpreter; (b) the embassy take-over was in part a response to a prior US violation of international law by engineering the 1953 coup in Iran and then supporting a ruthless dictatorship for a quarter of century; (c) those events are now remote in time and have been followed by the Algiers Accord that, as stated above, implicitly if not explicitly precludes the US from imposing punishments on Iran over the “hostage crisis.”

Henceforth, the US is likely to lose the legal battle with Iran at the UN, which in turn raises the question of what happens if the US ignores the adverse opinion of the arbitration panel. This case has striking similarities with the (PLO Chairman) Yasser Arafat visa affair, when the US showed callous disrespect for the bounds of its UN host agreement in 1988, which completely backfired and led to the General Assembly’s decision to hold its next annual gathering at the UN headquarter in Geneva.

If the US loses the legal bout, as it logically should given the above-stated reasons, then Iran has the option of seeking a similar move by the General Assembly.

For now, however, Tehran is keen on resolving this matter amicably through in-house negotiation at the UN, and hopefully reason will prevail and Mr. Aboutalebi will be able to assume his position in the near future, irrespective of how certain groups and individuals in the host country feel about it.

April 19, 2014 - Posted by | Aletho News | , , ,

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