Iran has named as its next ambassador to the United Nations, a member of the militant group that held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran 34 years ago.
Bloomberg news reported Sunday that the Iranian government has applied for a US visa for Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s former ambassador to Belgium and Italy, who was a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, a group of radical students that seized the U.S. embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, and held its staff hostage for 444 days.
The State Department hasn’t responded to the visa application, according to an Iranian diplomat.
Aboutalebi’s appointment could lead to demands in Washington that the Obama administration take the unusual step of denying a visa to an official posted to the UN, estimated Bloomberg. In addition, it “could hamper progress toward a comprehensive agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program,” which the US and other members of the P5+1 group are seeking to negotiate with Iran by July 20.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani reportedly tapped Aboutalebi for the UN position after an interim deal on Iran's nuclear weapons program was reached in Geneva last November.
“There’ll not be any rapprochement with Iran until hostages are compensated for their torture,” said Tom Lankford, an Alexandria, Virginia-based lawyer who’s been trying to win compensation for the hostages since 2000. “It’s important that no state sponsor of terror can avoid paying for acts of terror.”
Aboutalebi has said he didn’t take part in the initial occupation of the embassy, and acted as translator and negotiator, according to an interview he gave to the Khabaronline news website in Iran.
“On a few other occasions, when they needed to translate something in relation with their contacts with other countries, I translated their material into English or French,” Aboutalebi said, according to Khabaronline. “I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released, and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations.”
Although Aboutalebi downplays his involvement, his photograph is displayed on Taskhir, writes Bloomberg, the website of the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line.