- Iran asks for U.N. committee meeting on U.S. ban on envoy
- Obama warns Russia in tense call with Putin over Ukraine
- Brazil's Campos to run for president with environmentalist
Posted: 14 Apr 2014 06:40 PM PDT
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran requested on Monday a special meeting of a U.N. committee on the United States' refusal to grant a visa to Tehran's new U.N. ambassador appointee, but it has so far refrained from calling for any specific action, the committee's chairman said.
The United States said on Friday it would not grant a visa to Hamid Abutalebi because of his links to the 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis when radical Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Abutalebi has said that he acted only as a translator.
Iran has asked for a meeting of the U.N. Committee on Relations with the Host Country, said Cyprus U.N. Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, who chairs the 19-member group which deals with issues including visas, immigration and security.
"They have specified that they do not request any action on the part of the committee. They simply wish to brief us for the time being at least," Emiliou said, adding that the committee would likely meet next week.
Officials, diplomats and academics could not recall past cases of the United States denying a U.N. ambassador's visa.
Iranian Foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted by state news agency IRNA earlier on Monday as saying: "The official mechanisms for following up the complaint have been activated and we are going to follow up the case."
President Barack Obama had come under strong pressure not to allow Abutalebi into the country to take up his position in New York. Former hostages raised objections to Abutalebi, and a normally divided Congress passed legislation that would ban him.
The White House is still reviewing the legislation, which would bar any U.N. representative deemed to be behind acts of terrorism or espionage against the United States. It would need Obama's signature to become law.
Tehran has steadfastly 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 staunchly anti-Western views.
Iran had said on Saturday it would take action against Washington at the United Nations.
Under a 1947 "headquarters agreement" the United States is generally required to allow access to the United Nations for foreign diplomats. But Washington says it can deny visas for diplomats 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 the U.N. headquarters.
In 1988 Washington denied a visa for Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat, who wanted to address a U.N. debate on Palestine. U.S. secretary of state at the time George Schultz said Arafat was denied entry because he condoned terrorist attacks on Americans.
U.N. lawyers reported to the Committee on Relations with the Host Country that the United States was obligated to grant the visa under the U.N.'s headquarters' agreement.
The lawyers also said the headquarters agreement "does not contain a reservation of the right to bar the entry of those who represent, in the view of the host country, a threat to its security."
The headquarters agreement 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 International Court of Justice president.
This dispute mechanism was used in 1988 after the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987 declared the PLO a terrorist group and outlawed it from operating in the United States. Under this law the United States tried to shut down the PLO U.N. mission.
The United Nations declared the bid a "clear violation" of the headquarters agreement and tried to start the dispute settlement process with the United States to resolve the issue.
The United States refused to take part in the arbitration with the United Nations, saying it would "not serve a useful purpose." The United Nations then requested a legal advisory from the International Court of Justice, which found that Washington was obligated to enter into arbitration.
The PLO also took legal action in the United States and Washington only stopped its bid to shut down the PLO U.N. mission when a U.S. Federal Court judge ruled that the mission's status was protected by the host country agreement.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Moghtader in Dubai; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, Louise Ireland and Cynthia Osterman)
Posted: 14 Apr 2014 05:55 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a tense phone call on Monday that Moscow would face further costs for its actions in Ukraine and should use its influence to get separatists in the country to stand down.
Armed pro-Russian separatists seized more buildings in eastern Ukraine earlier in the day, expanding their control after the government failed to follow through on a threatened military crackdown.
In a call that the White House said Moscow requested, Obama told Putin that those forces were threatening to undermine and destabilize the government in Kiev.
"The president emphasized that all irregular forces in the country need to lay down their arms, and he urged President Putin to use his influence with these armed, pro-Russian groups to convince them to depart the buildings they have seized," the White House said in a statement.
Obama said Russian troops needed to withdraw from Ukraine's border to defuse tensions and made a point of praising Kiev for its "remarkable restraint" and efforts to unify the country with elections, constitutional reform and proposals to decentralize power to local governments.
"The president noted Russia's growing political and economic isolation as a result of its actions in Ukraine and made clear that the costs Russia already has incurred will increase if those actions persist," the White House said.
"(He) said that while he continues to believe that a diplomatic solution is still possible, it cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine's borders, armed provocation within Ukraine, and escalatory rhetoric by Kremlin officials."
The Kremlin said Putin told Obama during the call that Russia was not interfering in Ukraine and urged Washington to use its influence to prevent bloodshed.
Earlier, U.S. officials stopped short of announcing a new set of sanctions against Russia but said they were in consultations with European partners about the prospect.
The European Union agreed on Monday to step up sanctions against Moscow by expanding a list of people subjected to asset freezes and visa bans.
A senior administration official described the call between Obama and Putin as "frank and direct," a diplomatic construction that usually means tense.
The next round of U.S. sanctions, which would be the fourth imposed since the Ukraine crisis began, is likely to target Russians close to Putin as well as Russian entities, three sources familiar with the discussions said on Sunday.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki noted that the United States was prepared to impose sanctions on individuals and entities in the financial services, energy, metals, mining, engineering and defence sectors.
The sanctions have been the most visible sign of U.S. anger at Russia's annexation of the Crimea region in southern Ukraine last month, reflecting the deepest plunge in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.
U.S. officials declined to identify a timeline on Monday for further sanctions.
"I can assure you that Russia's provocations - further transgressions and provocations will come with a cost. And I'm not here to specify what cost will come from which specific action, but there have already been costs imposed on Russia; there will be further costs imposed on Russia," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
Obama spoke to French President Francois Hollande about the crisis on Monday and, as he did later with Putin, praised Ukraine's government for showing restraint, a sign Washington hopes Kiev will hold that course.
Carney also confirmed that the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, had been in Kiev over the weekend and decried what he called "false claims" levelled at the CIA by Russian authorities.
"U.S. and Russian intelligence officials have met over the years. To imply that U.S. officials meeting with their counterparts (in Kiev) is anything other than in the same spirit is absurd," he said.
According to media reports, Russia had urged Washington to explain what Brennan was doing in Ukraine.
(Additional reporting by Jim Loney; Editing by Ken Wills)
Posted: 14 Apr 2014 05:40 PM PDT
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Eduardo Campos, a business-friendly socialist from Brazil's poor north-eastern region, announced on Monday he will seek the presidency, vowing to restore confidence in the country's fiscal accounts and once booming economy.
The two-time governor of Pernambuco state picked as his running mate Marina Silva, a popular environmentalist who will bring millions of votes to the ticket. She will also draw the opposition of Brazil's wealthy agribusiness sector of which she is a declared enemy.
Campos, a youthful and charismatic politician, hopes to capitalize on growing discontent with the ruling Workers' Party that has been in power for 13 years by offering to preserve its social programs while providing more incentives for private investment.
Latin America's largest economy has slumped under President Dilma Rousseff. Standard & Poor's cut Brazil's credit rating last month by one notch to BBB-, the agency's lowest grade rating, citing slow growth and rising public debt.
"After three years, Brazil has come to a halt, the Brazilian people have lost hope, and the world has become disenchanted with us," Campos, 48, told a meeting of his Brazilian Socialist Party, which launched his nomination.
"Brazil's economic problems are mainly an issue of confidence and attitude. The world needs to see that Brazil has direction and transparency in its government accounts," he said.
Campos faces an uphill battle. He is running third in polls of voters' intentions, far behind Rousseff. But he has advanced closer to the main opposition leader, centrist Aécio Neves, since joining forces with Silva, a former presidential candidate who won 19 million votes in 2010.
A Datafolha poll in the first week of April showed support for Rousseff had dropped six percentage points to 38 percent since February, with Neves flat at 16 percent and Campos rising one point to 10 percent.
With inflation speeding up and the risk of anti-World Cup protests in June, these numbers could change swiftly when the election campaign gets off in earnest in July.
"If Rousseff enters a tailspin, Campos has potential to grow," said David Fleischer, a University of Brasilia politics professor who sees Campos' numbers rising when polls are based on electoral slates that include Silva's name.
While Campos announced his bid in the capital, Rousseff visited Pernambuco to grab headlines away from its former governor and highlight her government's financial backing for projects that made it one of Brazil's fastest-growing states.
Campos, the grandson of a beloved former governor of Pernambuco, has cosied up to the private sector, promising to reduce red tape and get government off their backs. He is expected to cut public spending to improve fiscal saving and try to lighten the heavy tax burden that businesses face in Brazil.
"It is easy to be business-friendly after Dilma, who ended up being totally unfriendly to business," said Andre Perfeito, chief economist at Gradual Investimentos. "Anyone else will be more palatable to markets."
The shares of state-run companies, which lost considerable market value as a result of Rousseff's interventionist policies, have gained on the Sao Paulo stock market in recent weeks on poll data that showed support for Rousseff was slipping.
If elected, middle-of-the-road Campos would not have much room to change macroeconomic policies, but he could achieve a lot by restoring credibility in long-term investment projects in Brazil, Perfeito said.
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