Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a very serious candidate for the French presidency.

His political career was stopped in its tracks when he was arrested and charged with the sexual assault and attempted rape of Nafissatou Diallo.

Let's imagine a different course of history:

  • he leaves the US and lands in France
  • the US justice reviews the case and requests him to be back (or opens an extradition case)
  • in the meantime he wins the elections

What would then be his status?

  • In the general case, he would have been arrested the moment he sets foot on US ground.
  • On the other hand, it may be that his diplomatic immunity (from being the French president) trumps the arrest request.
  • Finally he may be persona non grata in the US

What would have been the probable outcome?

  • 4
    It seems like the only objective question here is "Would being the French President give someone diplomatic immunity?", or perhaps, "Would the Federal government have the ability to waive an arrest warrant for diplomatic purposes?"
    – divibisan
    Mar 18, 2021 at 18:05
  • 5
    @divibisan yes, heads of state are afforded diplomatic immunity in US law. The US doesn't need to waive an arrest warrant for someone with diplomatic immunity because it is unlawful to execute the arrest warrant.
    – phoog
    Mar 19, 2021 at 2:32

2 Answers 2


Under the terms of the extradition treaty, both parties (USA and France) recognise the supremacy of the Constitution over any treaty. This means that the existence of a treaty with the USA can't compel any part of the French Government to break the Constitution of France.

Articles 67 and 68 of the French Constitution seem to indicate that the President has immunity from all criminal procedures during his or her term, (except in regards to the ICC, which the USA doesn't recognize and so is irrelevant)

So the extradition would be halted immediately, but could be put on hold until after the President had left office (whether by election, resignation or impeachment)

If the accusation was clear and he lost the support of the Parliament, then a impeachement may well follow, leading to the resumption of an extradition case.

If the President were to set foot in the USA it would be on the understanding that they were voluntarily surrendering to US justice. Or that there was an understanding that the arrest warrant would not be enforced. That is the diplomats would know what was going to happen in advance, and in all likelihood, the President simply would not go to the USA.

  • 1
    I have to admit I was expecting an answer along the lines of "you arrest the president of another country, you have a war".
    – Joshua
    Mar 19, 2021 at 1:44
  • @Joshua do you know of any wars that started that way?
    – phoog
    Mar 19, 2021 at 3:29
  • 10
    @phoog: In the modern world, I think "nobody's stupid enough to try it" is more likely to apply.
    – Joshua
    Mar 19, 2021 at 3:30

On the other hand, it may be that his diplomatic immunity (from being the French president) trumps the arrest request.

That is correct. The US won't arrest a foreign head of state. It's not even clear whether the foreign country could waive the person's immunity as may be done with an ambassador.

Finally he may be persona non grata in the US

That is entirely possible. A foreign head of state or head of government can only visit the US if the state department issues an A-1 visa to that person. Unlike the policy toward ambassadors and other government officials, this is true even if the person is not traveling on official business (see 9 FAM 402.3-5(C)(1)).

The US could declare the foreign head of state persona non grata for any reason or for no reason at all, in which case the state department will not issue the A-1 visa and the person cannot travel to the US. (However, if the person is traveling to the UN, the US has less discretion.)

Whether the US would prevent the accused from visiting under the protection of diplomatic immunity would depend primarily on political considerations.

  • 3
    Note that the US may need to deal with a similar situation in the near future regarding Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia. He is not currently head of state, but presumably will be when his father (currently 85) dies, and appears to be at least indirectly involved in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. And unlike a French president, they can't just wait until he leaves office, as he would be King for life. Mar 19, 2021 at 14:07
  • 2
    @DarrelHoffman is the US bringing charges against anyone in connection with that murder? As I understand it US law does not apply because he was not a US citizen. (Also, while the crown prince does not qualify for an A-1 visa regardless of the purpose of travel, he does presumably qualify as a "member of a reigning royal family," which qualifies him for a diplomatic-type visa regardless of the purpose of travel. Plus it's unlikely that he would come to the US without an official purpose. So the possibility of his coming to the US without immunity is exceedingly unlikely to arise.)
    – phoog
    Mar 19, 2021 at 17:51
  • Not yet as far as I know, but the investigation is ongoing. I think US law applies in the sense that Khashoggi was a US resident, if not a citizen. And presumably it would also be Turkish law that applies, since that's where the murder took place, and Turkey wants to play nicely because they're trying to join the EU... It's a legal and diplomatic mess no matter how you look at it. Mar 19, 2021 at 18:04
  • @DarrelHoffman if he had been a US citizen then the US might have been able to claim jurisdiction under its asserted special maritime and territorial jurisdiction, but since a permanent resident is not a "national of the United States," that would not be possible in this case. The US isn't going to issue an arrest warrant for violation of Turkish law, though the US could enforce a Turkish arrest warrant (I do not know whether the US and Turkey have an extradition treaty, however).
    – phoog
    Mar 19, 2021 at 18:12

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