Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is asking Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore to stay the execution of a Paraguayan man out of concern that the circumstances of the case could jeopardize the safety of Americans detained overseas.

Albright's highly unusual request late Monday was at odds with a Justice Department recommendation to the U.S. Supreme Court that the execution be allowed to proceed as planned Tuesday night. Gilmore, a Republican, said through a spokesman he will await a Supreme Court ruling before deciding.The controversy centers on a breach of international law by the state of Virginia in failing to notify Paraguayan authorities of the arrest, conviction and sentencing of Angel Francisco Breard for the murder and attempted rape of a Virginia woman in 1992.

The Vienna Convention requires governments to provide consular assistance to foreigners who run afoul of the law. Such assistance normally consists of allowing a diplomatic official from the foreign country to meet with the detainee to ensure that he is receiving proper treatment and that local laws are being followed.

The procedural error has been acknowledged by Virginia officials and was the principle basis for a World Court ruling last week that Breard's life be spared. The 15-judge court, the U.N.'s highest judicial body, has no enforcement powers and relies on countries to comply voluntarily with its decisions.

Albright said in a letter to Gilmore that she was asking for a stay because of "possible negative consequences" for American citizens who live or travel abroad.

"The immediate execution of Mr. Breard in the face of the (World) court's April 9 action could be seen as a denial by the United States of the significance of international law and the court's processes in its international relations and thereby limit our ability to ensure that Americans are protected when living or traveling abroad."

The Justice Department brief said, "Paraguay's claim as to the relevance of consular notification (is) speculative and unpersuasive . . . there is no basis for requiring the undoing of the lawfully imposed sentence of the courts of Virginia."

The department, in a 52-page brief, said Breard, 32, was not entitled to a delay in his execution under federal law, irrespective of Albright's arguments.