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Iran to sue US over UN nominee's visa denial

[JURIST] A foreign ministry spokesperson on Monday said that Iran plans to sue the US over its refusal to grant an entry visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, Tehran's newly-proposed ambassador to the United Nations (UN) [official website]. As the UN is based in New York, this US decision bars the nominee [BBC report] from taking up and carrying out the role of ambassador. The White House informed the Iranian government earlier this week that the selection of Aboutalebi was "not viable" after intense pressure was put on President Barack Obama [official website] by Congress to deny him entry due to his links to the student group involved in the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 [BBC backgrounder]. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have voted in favor [The Hill report] of a bill [S.2195 text] barring Aboutalebi from the entering country. According to Iranian Foreign Ministry [official website, in Arabic] spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham, the decision is a breach of international treaties [Xinhua report] and conflicts with a treaty between the UN and US government, the UN Headquarters Agreement [text]. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs, Majid Takht-e Ravanchi, stressed that the denial of the visa "has nothing to do with Iran-US relations," and said that Iran is not currently considering replacing Aboutalebi. According to correspondents, some diplomats are concerned [transcript] about the precedent that might be set by the denial of a visa to a potential ambassador.

While this may be the first time that the US has denied a visa for a UN ambassador, it is not the first time that the country has considered blocking an Iranian official from appearing at the UN over involvement in the 1979 hostage crisis. In June 2005 US officials began an investigation [JURIST report] into allegations made by former US hostages that the Iranian president-elect, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad [BBC profile, JURIST news archive], was among the revolutionary students responsible for taking American embassy staff hostage in 1979 and holding them for 444 days [Jimmy Cater Library backgrounder]. In August 2005 the US State Department said that it may deny a visa application by the new president due to the allegations, despite a lack of evidence and denials by both a former agent and Ahmadinejad himself [JURIST reports]. The visa denial would have made Ahmadinejad the first head of state to be denied entry to the US for UN business. Later that month, President George W. Bush announced that a visa would be granted [JURIST report] to the Iranian president to enable him to attend UN meetings in New York.

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