The United States has delayed issuing a visa for a high-ranking Iranian diplomat appointed as the Islamic Republic’s new Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.
The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has learned that the reason for the months–long delay may be the diplomat’s possible role in the 1979 seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran, although he has personally denied such involvement in an interview with a local Iranian news website.
On March 11, 2014, the Washington Post wrote that Hamid Aboutalebi had been waiting for approval of his U.S. visa application for months. The State Department has not provided any explanation for the delay.
It is not clear whether Aboutalebi’s application has been simply delayed for bureaucratic reasons or if the Americans are signalling to Tehran that they would like a diplomat other than Aboutalebi to be put forward.
“The Americans are very strict about this and they conduct thorough investigations to make sure those who get visas did not participate in the U.S. embassy takeover,” Mohsen Sazegara told the Campaign. Sazegara, one of the founders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, is an Iranian affairs analyst in Washington, DC.
Sazegara said that when he applied for a U.S. visa for a research opportunity, it took four months to get approval. When he arrived in the U.S. he asked about this long process and was told that the Americans are very careful not to accept anyone involved in the hostage-taking episode.
The Iranian press reported on January 5 that Aboutalebi, the Political Deputy of the president’s office, was to replace Mohammad Khazaei as Iran’s Permanent Representative at the UN. Before Khazaei, Mohammad Javad Zarif, the current Foreign Minister, held the position.
Aboutalebi has served as Iran’s ambassador to Italy, Australia, Belgium, and the European Union (for 15 years), and has been an advisor to the Foreign Ministry for five years.
In 1980 Aboutalebi, along with Abbas Abdi, a student instrumental in the US Embassy takeover, traveled to Algeria to invite representatives from several “liberation movements” to attend a meeting in Tehran. The invited groups included the Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah), the Polisario Front, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the Front for the Liberation of Zimbabwe, members of Shi’a communities from Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and Lebanon’s Amal Movement.
However, in an interview with Khabar Online website Aboutalebi denied involvement in the U.S. Embassy takeover. He was not in Tehran at the time, he was quoted as saying. He said his only reason for being at the occupied embassy later on was to serve as a translator.
“For the past 15 years, I have been an ambassador to many Western countries that are very close to the US, from Europe to Australia, and have always been dealing with the West,” Aboutalebi said. “Even in 1994 when I traveled to the US as a member of our country’s delegation at the UN General Assembly for a while, no questions [about my past] ever come up.”
Aboutalebi added: “The fact is that at the time of the Embassy takeover on November 4  I wasn’t even in Tehran to know about this or to participate in it or to be present, or for my name to be involved in this; I was in Ahvaz when I learned about what had happened.
“A while later, when I came to Tehran, one day Martyr [Rahman] Dademan sent me a message through another war commander by the name of Shahid Zaker, saying that they needed someone for French translation. I accepted…. For example, I was the translator at the press conference when they released female and African-American hostages on humanitarian basis.”
On the 19th of March, the hardline daily Kayhan criticized the Foreign Ministry’s silence regarding the delay in issuing a visa for Aboutalebi and noted that the outgoing Mohammad Khazaie had already returned to Iran.
* This article was further edited for language on April 1, 2014.