The United States, in a rare diplomatic rebuke, will not grant a visa to Tehran’s pick for envoy to the United Nations, the Obama administration said Friday.
The move could complicate efforts to thaw the decades-long diplomatic freeze between the US and Iran, as the two countries negotiate a deal to curb Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.
President Obama’s administration had previously said it opposed the nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was a member of the group responsible for 1979 takeover of the US embassy in Tehran as a revolution erupted in Iran. US officials had hoped the issue could be resolved by Tehran simply withdrawing the nomination.
That did not happen, so the US made the unusual, if not unprecedented, move to not grant a visa to a UN ambassadorial nominee.
“We’ve communicated with the Iranians and made clear our position on this — the selection was not viable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. His nomination has outraged members of Congress, who passed a bill barring entry to the US to an individual found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or a threat to national security.
United Nations officials had no immediate comment on the US decision.
Iran has called the US rejection of Aboutalebi “not acceptable”, with Iranian state TV quoting Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying Aboutalebi is one of the country’s best diplomats and arguing he previously received a US visa. Aboutalebi has insisted his involvement in the group involved in the embassy takeover, Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, was limited to translation and negotiation.
Iranian officials said they had submitted a visa application for Aboutalebi, but it was unclear whether the US actually denied the request or simply didn’t act on it. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the administration was prohibited from discussing the matter in detail as visa cases are confidential.