Iran’s “Terrorist” UN Envoy

Iran’s new ambassador to the UN, Hamid Aboutalebi, served as a translator for the students who stormed the US embassy in Tehran in 1979. Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer’s bill barring Aboutalebi from entering the country passed both houses unanimously last week. On Friday, the White House announced that Aboutalebi would not receive a visa. Scott McConnell sees through Cruz and Schumer’s concern trolling:

Of course the target here is not Iran’s ambassador to the UN. Cruz and Schumer aim to destroy the Obama/ P5+1 negotiation with Iran, which aim for a reduction and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear energy program in return for lifting of Iran sanctions. I presume Schumer does this because he wants Israel to be the only state in the Middle East permitted to enrich uranium—the senator often vows that his main purpose is to serve as Israel’s “guardian.” Cruz is implementing the current Republican campaign to depict Obama as a weak “Jimmy Carter like” figure in foreign affairs. Introducing a bill which evokes the frustrated emotions of the long ago hostage crisis while tossing rocks into the gears of American diplomacy thus serves as a kind of twofer. Both senators know well that there are hard-liners in Iran who oppose a successful nuclear negotiation with the United States as much as they do. Cruz and Schumer are thus playing to a dual audience, Americans immersed in Iran hatred and their Iranian counterparts.

Elias Groll and Colum Lynch explain the controversy in more detail and preview the legal battle to come:

The decision sets up a potential clash with the United Nations, whose 1947 agreement with the United States governing the body’s New York headquarters clearly forbids Washington from prohibiting the entry of U.N. ambassadors.

“The federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of representatives of Members,” the agreement reads. Under the terms of that agreement, disputes between the United States and the body are to be settled through arbitration. … Though the United States has previously attempted to bar the participation of certain groups at the U.N, this is the first time Washington has prevented a U.N. ambassador from taking up his position, according to Julian Ku, a law professor at Hofstra University and an expert on international law. In 1988, the United States barred Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, from addressing the U.N. General Assembly. In response, the U.N. temporarily relocated its proceedings to Geneva. A year earlier, Congress attempted to force the PLO to close its offices at U.N. headquarters, an effort that ultimately failed.

John Bellinger argues that America’s agreement with the UN carved out an exception that allows us to deny Aboutalebi a visa:

[U]nder this so-called “security reservation,” Congress limited the U.S. obligation to allow representatives of other U.N. members to enter the U.S. if necessary to “safeguard its own security.”  Some observers, including my friend Kevin Heller over at Opinio Juris, have read Section 6 as reserving the authority of the Executive branch only to control the travel of foreign nationals into areas of the United States outside the U.N. “headquarters district” and not to deny absolutely the entrance of foreign nationals into the United States. Although this is one possible reading of Section 6, an equally plausible reading of Section 6 is that it reserves a general and absolute right for the U.S. to “safeguard its own security” as well as a more specific right to limit travel outside the U.N. district. It is hard for me to believe that Congress in 1947 would have acceded to an unfettered obligation to allow any foreign national to come to the U.N. headquarters district, as long as they did not travel outside that district.

But Heller contends that Bellinger is misreading the law:

Section 6 contains two separate provisions. Provision 1 permits the US to prohibit individuals who have a right of entry under the Headquarters Agreement but are considered a security threat from traveling anywhere other than other than “the [UN] headquarters district and its immediate vicinity.” Provision 2 then permits the US to deny entry completely to anyone who does not have a right of entry under the Headquarters Agreement. Section 6 thus does not permit the US to deny entry completely to someone who has a right of entry.