It was recently reported in the New York Times that the US government is refusing to issue a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, who was recently nominated as Iran's ambassador to the United Nations. Since the UN headquarters is in New York, this presumably would prevent Aboutalebi from carrying out his duties.

The article says:

Under a 1947 law that established the headquarters of the United Nations in New York, the United States is obligated to issue visas to diplomats assigned there, even those it finds objectionable. But the United States has reserved the right to turn down people based on concerns over security, terrorism or foreign policy issues.

It's unclear from this in what sense the US is "obligated" to issue visas if they also "reserve the right" not to do so.

Have there been previous incidents where the US has denied a visa to a UN-assigned diplomat? What was the eventual outcome? Does this happen often?

Update: The New York Times has published a followup article. Iran is calling the US's action "unprecedented". The article also claims:

In most previous instances when the United States objected to the entry of a diplomat, the application was quietly withdrawn. But the United States is not known to have ever denied a visa to an ambassador before.

That would answer my question if it's accurate.

  • 1
    Excellent question! The US must have to give visas to nations it doesn't have diplomatic relations with or it would defeat the purposes of the UN. A few years ago Iranian diplomats came to the US and bought out a Cosco to get around the luxury item import ban. Maybe these are the "objectionable" actions.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 12, 2014 at 21:20
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    @RazieMah: In this case, the objection is that Aboutalebi was involved in the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Teheran. Apr 12, 2014 at 21:31
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    Ignore first comment-although it was quite the humorous diplomatic faux pa involving setting up a tent that looked like a harem to the US public, etc. Your article says why they are denying him. Because he was involved in terrorist acts against the US. An equally good question would be if any nation ever tried to assign a terrorist as a UN diplomat, but I think so probably.
    – Razie Mah
    Apr 12, 2014 at 21:36
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    @Chad: That's not quite the same, though. If country X posts a diplomat to their embassy in the US, it's understood that the US has the power to expel them at will, and this happens all the time. It only affects the diplomatic ties between the US and X. But expelling or refusing a UN-posted diplomat affects the relations between X and the whole rest of the world, and it could be argued it takes unfair advantage of the UN being located withing the US's borders. Apr 15, 2014 at 15:31
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    @Chad: I see. If the previous incident really did involve Russian diplomats posted to the UN, rather than to the Russian embassy in Washington or another consulate, then please do post it with references as an answer. Apr 15, 2014 at 15:40

2 Answers 2


If a UN diplomat is defined as being a official chosen by a UN member state to represent the country at the UN, then Hamid Aboutalebi's case is the first of its kind from the US.

As reported in the New York Times article and other sources, Washington has just signed a new bill, titled

A bill to deny admission to the United States to any representative to the United Nations who has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities or a terrorist activity against the United States and poses a threat to United States national security interests

, which is also known as 'Public Law 113-100' and 'S.2195'. From what I gather from the bill, it gives the US jurisdiction to deny certain UN diplomats visas if they are found to be guilty of activities against the US. This should mean that theoretically, before the bill, the US did not have such jurisdiction and thus did not carry out such an action. Therefore, it can be assumed that this case has had no precedents.

The example of Arafat mentioned by Amejel is a nice mention. However, as mentioned by Amejel, this is not a precedent for Aboutalebi's case, since Arafat was not a UN diplomat as defined above. Another good mention is Narenda Modi's US visa ban prior to his election as Prime Minister of India. He, however, was never a UN diplomat in the capacity as mentioned previously.

Thus, It can be said that this is an unprecedented case and that the US does not often deny visas to UN diplomats

  • The assumption that "before the bill, the US did not have such jurisdiction" is incorrect. There is a statutory basis in the Immigration and Nationality Act for denying visas to diplomats on limited grounds of inadmissibility, including those related to terrorism, so such a denial has been possible at least since the early 1950s. Whether it has ever been employed, I do not know.
    – phoog
    Jan 10, 2020 at 5:21
  • Can we say that the Congress weaponizes the location of the UN Assembly ? Jan 14, 2020 at 15:54

At least for russian diplomats USA have often denied visas as si shown by an actual example which can be read in this reuters article. And there are more example of USA deniing visas to russian diplomats even befor the curent conflict in Ukraine. Here an other example mentioned in a russian sorce. And an other example.

  • That article appears to be about a Russian official visiting the UN not a Russian diplomat that was assigned to the UN.
    – Joe W
    Sep 14, 2022 at 21:43
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    @Joe W I added an example tallking about diplomats, but unfortunately it´s russian sorce.
    – convert
    Sep 14, 2022 at 21:52
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    @Joe W As long you don´t mind that the sorce is from Russia.
    – convert
    Sep 14, 2022 at 21:55
  • @JoeW there's no distinction in US immigration law or in terms of diplomatic status under the UN Headquarters Agreement between a Russian official visiting the UN and a Russian diplomat that was assigned to the UN.
    – phoog
    Sep 14, 2022 at 22:30
  • @phoog I was not aware of anything like that, I was just going off what was in the question that stated it was for officially assigned diplomats.
    – Joe W
    Sep 14, 2022 at 23:51

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