No U.S. visa for Iran pick as U.N. envoy

Hamid Abutalebi is accused of involvement in the U.S. embassy hostage taking in Tehran

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The White House said Friday an Iranian official who was in the student group that took U.S. diplomats hostage in 1979 will not be issued a visa to allow him to become Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “Our position is that we will not be issuing him a visa.”

President Barack Obama’s administration had previously said only that it opposed the nomination of Abutalebi. U.S. officials had hoped the issue could be resolved by Tehran simply withdrawing the nomination.

That did not happen, so the U.S. made the unusual, if not unprecedented, move to not grant a visa to a U.N. ambassadorial nominee.

“We’ve communicated with the Iranians at a number of levels and made clear our position on this - and that includes our position that the selection was not viable.”

The decision effectively bars Abutalebi, a veteran diplomat who has held key European postings, of taking up the U.N. position in New York.

Abutalebi’s potential role in the 1979 hostage crisis was first reported by Bloomberg News but the Iranian diplomat has played this down, suggesting he was just a translator.

According to people who know Abutalebi, he was part of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line, the student group that occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979, but was not among the core group of student activists and was not inside the embassy during the crisis, Reuters said in report published last week.

Abutalebi was appointed deputy director of Iranian President Hassan Rowhani’s political affairs office in September and headed the Central Asian branch at the research center of the Expediency Council, an influential body chaired by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Iran has rejected as “unacceptable” the U.S. reservations on the nomination of the veteran diplomat.

Iranian state television quoted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying that Abutalebi is one of the country’s best diplomats and arguing that he previously received a U.S. visa.

Abutalebi has insisted his involvement in the group involved in the embassy takeover was limited to translation and negotiation.

Iranian officials said they had submitted a visa application for Abutalebi, but it was unclear whether the U.S. actually denied the request or simply decided not to act on it, the Associated Press reported.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the administration was prohibited from discussing the matter in detail because visa cases are confidential.

Iranian response

Commenting on the U.S. decision, an Iranian official told Reuters that it will not affect Tehran’s nuclear talks with world powers.

The official said it would be for the Iranian foreign ministry to “take the necessary measures” in any official response by the Islamic Republic to the U.S. decision to bar Hamid Abutalebi.

But the U.S. move “will have no impact on our talks with the P5+1,” the official added, using a phrase that refers to the six powers involved in negotiating with Tehran. The official declined to be identified.

In past problematic visa cases for ambassadors and even heads of state - such as with a previous Iranian nominee in the early 1990s and more recently with Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir - the U.S. has either signaled opposition to the applicant and the request has been withdrawn, or the State Department has simply declined to process the application. Those options, as well as approving or denying the application, are available in the current case.

U.S. immigration law allows broad rejection of visas to foreigners and, in many cases, authorities do not have to give an explicit reason why other than to deem the applicant a threat to national security or American policy.

The law bars foreigners whose entry or activity in the U.S. would “have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States.”

[With AP and Reuters]

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