WASHINGTON - In a rare diplomatic rebuke, the United States has blocked Iran's controversial pick for envoy to the United Nations, a move that could stir animosity at a time when Washington and Tehran have been seeking a thaw in relations.
The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi's name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful.
Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the embassy takeover. He has insisted his involvement was limited to translation and negotiation.
Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian U.N. Mission, said the decision was not only regrettable but "in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations."
As host country for the United Nations, the U.S. must provide rights to persons invited to the New York headquarters. However, exceptions can be made when a visa applicant is found to have engaged in spying against the U.S. or poses a threat to American national security.