WASHINGTON (AP) — In a rare diplomatic rebuke, the United States will not grant a visa to Tehran's controversial pick for envoy to the United Nations, the Obama administration said Friday.
"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," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "Our position is that we will not be issuing him a visa."
Denying visas to U.N. ambassadorial nominees or to foreign heads of state who want to attend United Nations events in the United States is unusual, if not unprecedented. The move comes amid a possible thaw in the decades-long diplomatic freeze between the U.S. and Iran, as the two countries negotiate a deal to curb Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
The Obama administration had previously said only that it opposed the nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. U.S. officials had hoped the issue could be resolved by Tehran simply withdrawing the nomination.
Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the takeover. His nomination has outraged members of Congress, who passed a bill barring entry to the U.S. to an individual found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or a threat to national security.
Carney would not say whether President Barack Obama would sign the bill but said the president shares its sentiments.
United Nations officials had no immediate comment on the U.S. decision.
Iran has called U.S. rejection of Aboutalebi "not acceptable," with Iranian state television quoting Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as saying Aboutalebi is one of the country's best diplomats and arguing that he previously received a U.S. 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.