As troubled as supporters of Israel might be by the annual sight of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, there is nothing Israel, the United States or anybody else can do against it, Israeli officials said.
While US authorities have reportedly barred some 20 members of the Iranian delegation from entering the country, including two ministers, about 140 Iranian delegates received their visas and entered the US for the Assembly — including Ahmadinejad himself, who is set to speak on Wednesday. US authorities did not comment on the exclusions as visa matters are strictly confidential.
“Leaders of UN member states are protected by diplomatic immunity,” an Israeli official told The Times of Israel. As a head of state, Ahmadinejad’s right to appear at the UN in New York is enshrined in the contract the US signed with the UN in 1947. Section 15 of the US Headquarters Agreement stipulates that the principal representatives of UN members are entitled “to the same privileges and immunities” diplomats have.
‘Even if there was an international arrest warrant against him issued by the International Criminal Court, it would be exceedingly difficult to arrest him’
“In the case of Members whose governments are not recognized by the United States,” the agreement states, “such privileges and immunities need be extended to such representatives, or persons on the staffs of such representatives, only within the headquarters district, at their residences and offices outside the district, in transit between the district and such residences and offices, and in transit on official business to or from foreign countries.”
In other words, Washington has no right to restrict Ahmadinejad’s movement as long as it is related to visiting the UN. Iran’s president could not, however, go on afterwards to a ski trip in Utah or visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona.
“Even if there was an international arrest warrant against him issued by the International Criminal Court, it would be exceedingly difficult to arrest him,” an Israeli official said.
The Iranian president arrived in New York on Saturday and quickly gave several interviews to high-profile media outlets, during which he dismissed threats of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In his address on Wednesday morning, as during his previous speeches from the UN podium, he is expected to defend his country’s controversial nuclear program and harshly attack the US, Israel and the West.
Ahmadinejad has been addressing the GA regularly since he took office in 2005; his appearances in New York — at the GA and several unrelated events — have in the past provoked outrage and demonstrations, for example in 2007, when he spoke to students at Columbia University. Addressing world leaders at the GA, he has routinely demonized Israel, denied the Holocaust and espoused September 11 conspiracy theories. His speech Wednesday, coming between speeches by the leaders of Gambia and Kenya, will be Ahmadinejad’s last as president of Iran, as his second and final term ends in the summer of 2013.
This year, too, opponents will make their displeasure felt and stage various protests and demonstration against Ahmadinejad.
‘You can call your enemies names as long as you want, it’s still not a legal case’
While some have argued that Ahmadinejad should not be allowed to walk freely in the US because of his alleged incitement to genocide against Israel, one Israeli official said such calls were unrealistic and unhelpful.
“We agree with those who say that Ahmadinejad is a criminal, that he has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and that that should be considered incitement to genocide,” the official said. “But there’s a huge gap between political talk and legal actions. You can call your opponents and your enemies names as long as you want, it’s still not a legal case.”
Canadian parliamentarian and former justice minister Irwin Cotler, for instance, has long argued that by threatening to wipe Israel off the map, Ahmadinejad has made himself liable to charges of incitement to genocide. The Genocide Convention, adopted by the UN in 1948, clearly defines “Direct and public incitement to commit genocide” as a punishable crime.
“Incitement itself is the crime — whether or not genocide follows,” Cotler argued this month in an op-ed published in the National Post.
“As an all-party parliamentary committee of the Canadian Parliament put it, ‘Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide’ – and it is all the more ominous as this incitement is the terrifying and vilifying context in which Iran’s nuclear weaponization is being accelerated,” Cotler wrote earlier this month in The Times of Israel. “The Iranian regime’s criminal incitement has been long documented; yet, not one state party to the Genocide Convention has undertaken any of its mandated responsibilities to prevent and punish such incitement.”
According to Cotler, international law provides for several “juridical remedies” against such incitement, including calling on the UN Security Council “for accountability and sanction,” complaining to the UN secretary-general about the regime threatening international peace and security, and asking the Security Council to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court, “which can indict Iranian leaders as it has others.”
“Silence is not an option when states threaten genocide — especially when they, like Iran, are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons and even boast that they can thereby bring about a holocaust ‘in a matter of minutes,’” Cotler wrote.
But greeting Ahmadinejad with handcuffs as he exits his Iran Air flight in New York is just not going happen, the Israeli official insisted. “Everybody who is just a little bit familiar with international law knows that it’s not possible to indict Ahmadinejad,” he said. “It’s just not feasible. What we think about him is clear, but complaining alone doesn’t help. In the meantime, no one has ever succeeded in building a good legal case against Ahmadinejad.”
The official criticized politicians and opinion makers who continue to dream about arresting the Iranian president. “There are some former diplomats and ambassadors and others who keep on bringing up this idea. But it’s nonsense,” he said.
Other Israeli officials agreed that it was impossible to arrest Ahmadinejad in New York but added that Jerusalem spoke to US, UN and other officials urging them to get up and walk out of the General Assembly hall as soon as his speech turns to the usual vitriol against the West and Israel.