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White House refuses US visa for Iran newly appointed UN envoy

Hamid Aboutalebi has been linked to the 1979 hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were held for 444 days.

US President Barack Obama
US President Barack Obama
Image: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

THE UNITED STATES HAS refused to grant a visa to Iran’s newly appointed UN ambassador, who has been linked to the 1979 hostage crisis, threatening to cloud a gradual thaw in relations.

Tehran says Washington’s objection to Hamid Aboutalebi is unacceptable and the situation appears to be heading towards stalemate, as well as posing a challenge to President Barack Obama’s drive for a diplomatic breakthrough after decades of mistrust between the two sides.

As the host government of the United Nations, the US is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at the New York-based world body and it is believed that Washington has never denied a visa for a UN ambassador, although Tehran withdrew its nominee once in the early 1990s.

Fierce political pressure from Congress, which has overwhelmingly passed a bill barring Aboutalebi from US soil and where skepticism of Obama’s nuclear diplomacy runs high, has put the White House in a corner.

“We have informed the United Nations and Iran that we will not issue a visa for Mr Aboutalebi,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Carney said White House lawyers were studying constitutional issues raised by the bill which landed on Obama’s desk on Thursday, and did not say whether he would eventually sign it.

But he added: “We certainly share the intent of the bill passed by Congress.”

Carney said that there was no reason to expect that the row between Tehran and Washington over the envoy would impact progress in talks between Iran and world powers, including the United States, over Tehran’s nuclear program.

‘Not viable’

The episode reflects the impact the hostage crisis — in which 52 Americans were held for 444 days in Tehran — still has on US perceptions of the Islamic Republic.

Neither Carney nor the State Department directly put down the decision not to give Aboutalebi a visa down to suspicions over his role in 1979, but noted widespread media reports on his background.

Iran had slammed as unacceptable a previous US statement that the nomination of Aboutalebi was “not viable.”

- © AFP, 2014

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