Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has reportedly chosen as Iran’s next UN Ambassador a member of the group that took over the U.S. embassy in Tehran for 444 days during the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Iran applied for a visa for the diplomat, Hamid Aboutalebi, but so far the State Department has not responded to the application, Bloomberg News reported.
Aboutalebi was a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, the militant group which took over the embassy. He has also served as his country’s ambassador to Australia, Belgium and Italy.
However, the diplomat in the past told an Iranian news site that he didn’t take part in the initial takeover of the U.S. compound in Tehran and instead acted as a translator and negotiator.
“On a few other occasions, when they needed to translate something in relation with their contacts with other countries, I translated their material into English or French,” Aboutalebi said according to a Bloomberg translation of a Khabaronline interview. “I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released, and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations,” referring to the earlier release of some U.S. personnel from the embassy in November of 1979.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that the diplomat had already been waiting for months for his visa application to be approved, but “can’t seem to get his U.S. visa.”
The U.S.-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran reported over the weekend that it was told the reason for the delay was Aboutalebi’s reported role in the embassy seizure.
An unnamed former hostage and U.S. diplomat told Bloomberg that anyone connected with the hostage-takers should not receive a visa to enter the U.S.
“A controversy over Aboutalebi’s appointment could spark demands on Capitol Hill and beyond during this congressional election year for the Obama administration to take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN,” Bloomberg News wrote.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf would not comment to Bloomberg if the U.S. government was aware of Aboutalebi’s past association with the group that took over the embassy, but she did say, “Anyone can submit a visa application, and it will be evaluated as we do all visa applications, in accordance with our procedures.”
“We don’t speculate on what the outcome might be,” Harf added.
A spokesman for Iran’s UN Mission in New York would not comment to the news agency.
Bloomberg reported that the U.S. in its role as host country to the international organization is obliged to grant entry visas to UN representatives, but Reuters reported that the U.S. does “reserve the right to refuse visas to those seeking to work as diplomats in New York.”
Unnamed Iranian sources told Reuters that the senior diplomat hopes to arrive in New York as early as next month.
Reuters further pointed out that Iranian, North Korean and Syrian UN diplomats “are confined to a radius of 25 miles from Columbus Circle in Midtown Manhattan.”