The Obama administration has broken months of silence regarding the visa application for the diplomat Iran has chosen as its next ambassador to the United Nations.
A Bloomberg News report revealed over the weekend that Hamid Aboutalebi, the ambassador who has served as the Islamic Republic’s envoy to Australia, Belgium and Italy, was also a member of the militant group that seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979, holding American personnel hostage for 444 days.
The State Department won’t comment on the status of Aboutalebi’s visa application which would allow him to serve at UN headquarters in New York, but on Wednesday called Iran’s choice for ambassador “extremely troubling.”
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “We think this nomination would be extremely troubling. We’re taking a close look at the case now, and we’ve raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the Government of Iran. I’m not going to get into specifically how we’ve done that, but we have done that.”
“As host nation of the UN, except for in limited exceptions, we’re generally obligated, as folks know, under an agreement between the U.S. and the UN to admit the chosen representatives of permanent – of member states into the U.S. for purposes of representing their country at the UN,” Harf said.
More strident reactions to the nomination were heard on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the choice of Aboutalebi a “slap in the face.”
“This is a slap in the face to the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days and an affront to all Americans,” Graham said in a statement quoted in The Hill, adding that his nomination calls into question the “so-called moderation” of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“A number of other lawmakers have spoken out against granting him a visa, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Ted Cruz (Texas). Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) also said the nomination raises serious questions,” The Hill reported. “Cruz introduced legislation that would prevent a U.N. ambassador from entering the United States if that ambassador was a known terrorist, aiming the bill at Aboutalebi.”
New York Sen. Charles Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry demanding the diplomat not be allowed into the U.S.
“This man has no place in the diplomatic process, and the State Department should flat-out deny his visa application. Iran’s attempt to appoint Mr. Aboutalebi is a slap in the face to the Americans that were abducted, and their families; it reveals a disdain for the diplomatic process and we should push back in kind,” Schumer told the New York Post.
Former hostages have also come out against his nomination.
Aboutalebi once told an Iranian news site that he didn’t take part in the initial takeover of the U.S. compound in Tehran, rather had the role of a translator and negotiator.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Aboutalebi had already been waiting for months for his visa application to be approved, but “can’t seem to get his U.S. visa.”