Obama signs legislation aimed at blocking Iran's choice as UN ambassador from entering US

The Associated Press

This Feb. 6, 2014 photo, provided by the office of the Iranian President, shows Hamid Aboutalebi, an Iranian diplomat, who was recently named as Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, speaking in his office in Tehran, Iran. President Barack Obama has signed legislation aimed at blocking Iran’s chosen ambassador to the United Nations but says he’s only treating it as guidance. The unusual legislation bars anyone from entering the U.S. as a U.N. representative if they’ve engaged in espionage or terrorist activity and still pose a threat to U.S. security. It’s aimed at blocking Hamid Aboutalebi, linked to the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno)

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As host country for the United Nations, the U.S. must provide rights to persons invited to the New York headquarters. However, exceptions can be made when a visa applicant is found to have engaged in spying against the U.S. or poses a threat to American national security.

Despite the decades-long tension between the U.S. and Iran, the Islamic republic maintains a robust diplomatic mission at U.N. headquarters in New York. The U.S. frequently allows visas for representatives from countries it disfavors, including Syria and North Korea, but restricts their diplomats' movements and activities to a 25-mile radius of New York City.

Denying visas to U.N. ambassadorial nominees or to foreign heads of state who want to attend United Nations events in the U.S. is extremely rare, though there appears to be precedent. According to a paper published by the Yale Law School, the United States rejected several Iranians appointed to the U.N. in the 1980s who had played roles in the embassy hostage crisis or other acts against American citizens.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. General Assembly's committee on relations with the United States will meet on Tuesday and that the U.N. legal counsel will be present. He had no further comment.

Iran can choose to nominate a different ambassador or have Aboutalebi occupy the post from overseas.

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AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace and Associated Press writer Peter James Spielmann at the United Nations contributed to this report

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