UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran asked the United Nations on Tuesday to demand that the United States grant a visa to Tehran's proposed new U.N. envoy, while Washington stood firm on its decision to deny entry to Hamid Abutalebi over his suspected links to hostage-takers.
The United States has said it would not grant a visa to Abutalebi because of his connection to the 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis when Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Abutalebi has said he acted only as a translator.
The U.N. Committee on Relations with the Host Country, which deals with the issues of states operating in the United States such as immigration, security, banking and parking violations, met on Tuesday at Iran's request to discuss the matter.
"We firmly believe that this is a very serious issue and the committee should address it in an urgent and serious way," Iran's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Hossein Dehghani told the panel.
Washington's denial of a visa for Abutalebi was "so obviously" a breach of a 1947 "headquarters agreement" between the United States and the United Nations that "the committee should deal with it in an extraordinary way," Dehghani said.
Under the pact, the United States is generally required to allow access to the United Nations for foreign diplomats. Washington has said it can deny visas for "security, terrorism, and foreign policy" reasons.
A 1947 Joint Resolution of Congress said nothing should be seen as "diminishing, abridging, or weakening the right of the United States to safeguard its own security and completely control the entrance of aliens" into any part of the United States aside from U.N. headquarters.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, "As far as we know this is a unique case involving a permanent representative (ambassador)."
The 19-member Committee on Relations with the Host Country could ask U.N. lawyers for an opinion to establish if there is a dispute between the United Nations and the United States on the issue.
The pact says disputes should be referred to a tribunal of three arbitrators, one each chosen by the United Nations and United States and the third agreed by both or appointed by the president of the International Court of Justice.
"We believe that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who represents one party to the bilateral treaty of headquarters agreement, has a responsibility to shoulder and has to work towards ensuring that the terms and provisions of the agreement are strictly observed," Dehghani said.
Iran also asked the legal counsel of the Secretary-General to take all necessary steps to ensure the United States abides by the headquarters agreement, he added.
President Barack Obama had come under strong pressure not to allow Abutalebi into the country to take up his position. Former hostages objected to Abutalebi, and a normally divided Congress passed legislation to ban him.
That legislation became law on Friday when Obama signed it. It bars any U.N. representative deemed to be behind acts of terrorism or espionage against the United States or considered a threat to U.S. national security.
Tehran has stuck by its choice for U.N. ambassador, describing Abutalebi as a seasoned diplomat. He has served as ambassador to Italy, Belgium and Australia and is not known as a hardliner or for having staunch anti-Western views.
"Iran and the United States presented their views," said Cyprus' U.N. Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, the panel chairman.
"There was a discussion ... and the committee decided to remain seized of the issue."
Diplomats at the meeting said Belarus, Cuba, North Korea and Ecuador spoke in support of Iran's complaint.
According to the diplomats, the United States said it took its host responsibility seriously, but had concerns about Abutalebi's role in the hostage crisis and it would be intolerable for him to receive diplomatic protection he had denied others.
The United States told the panel its position of not granting visas to people involved in the Tehran hostage crisis was not new, diplomats said.
Dehghani said Iran had suffered "a long list of visa problems and excruciating delays," and cited four examples.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Clarence Fernandez)