Irritant in relations

April 13, 2014 - 1:09:11 am

Washington’s refusal to grant a visa to Iran’s new diplomat to the UN has thrown hurdles in relations which are experiencing a thaw.

Washington’s refusal to grant a visa to Iran’s new diplomat to the United Nations has thrown hurdles in the steadily improving relations between the two countries. The dispute comes at a wrong time because both countries now need each other more than any time in the past as talks over Iran’s nuclear programme are inching forward and showing some progress. The US move is considered a rare rebuke that could stir fresh animosity.

The Obama administration said on Friday that it had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, who it says is a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran. Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the embassy takeover. The announcement of the rejection came after backdoor efforts to convince Iran to withdraw its candidate failed.

Tehran too has been adamant, saying it has no plans to change the official. Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian UN Mission, said the US decision was not only regrettable but “in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member states to designate their representatives to the United Nations.”

Irritants like this are not unusual when nations move to resolve major issues, but their ability to wreck relations would depend on how far countries would allow relations to get wrecked. The US and Iran need to go ahead with talks on the nuclear programme which had bedeviled relations for a long time. Both sides are keenly interested in reaching a deal. Iran, under the leadership of Hassan Rowhani, has already tasted the fruits of a possible deal. Clouds of tension and conflict are receding from Iran’s horizon, and the country’s economy has been showing signs of new life after the possibility of further sanctions evaporated. For Obama too, a deal on the nuclear issue will be a prized diplomatic victory.

Iran’s choice puts President Obama in a quandary. The Senate overwhelmingly agreed on Monday that Iran’s pick for UN envoy shouldn’t be allowed to step foot in US and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives is expected to soon vote in favour of the ban, but this is considered largely symbolic since only the White House is authorised to approve such sanctions. 

It’s unlikely that both sides will allow hard-won diplomatic gains to be obliterated by this dispute. But a solution must come soon. Any delay can push both into hard positions from which a retreat will be difficult if not impossible•