US still silent about Iran’s reportedly new envoy

Photo: US still silent about Iran’s reportedly new envoy / Iran

U.S. State Department declined to comment on visa issue of Hamid Aboutalebi who reportedly may be appointed as new envoy of Iran to UN.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf did not indicate if the administration intends to bar Aboutalebi from the country by refusing to issue him a visa, Reuters reported on March 31.

"We don't discuss individual visa cases," she said, adding that "people are free to apply for one and their visas are adjudicated under the normal procedures."

Iran's U.N. mission also declined to comment.

Abutalebi told Iranian media that he attended the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 1994 as part of the Iranian delegation. He also played down his role during the hostage crisis, suggesting he was just a translator.

The Iran hostage crisis was a diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United States. Fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days (Nov. 4, 1979-Jan. 20, 1981), after a group of Iranian students supporting the Iranian Revolution took over the US Embassy in Tehran.

"When it happened (the occupation of the U.S. embassy), I was in Ahvaz and not in Tehran therefore could not be part of it," he told the Iranian Khabaronline website.

"When I came back to Tehran ... I was asked to help with doing some translation and I accepted to do it," he said. "I did the translation during the news conference when female and also African-American employees of the embassy were released."

Former hostage John Limbert said he has questions about Abutalebi's stated role. "I'm not sure exactly what he means by 'translator'," he told Reuters.

Aboutalebi, who has served as Iran's ambassador to Italy, Belgium and Australia, is not known for being a hardliner or having staunchly anti-Western views.

He is widely seen as a moderate and reformist who is close to president Hassan Rouhani and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both considered to be pragmatists. He is also close to Mohammad Khatami, a reformist former president.

Aboutalebi was appointed as deputy director of Rouhani's political affairs office in September and headed the Central Asian branch at the research center of the Expediency Council, an influential body chaired by Rafsanjani.

Aboutalebi is to replace Iran's outgoing U.N. envoy Mohammad Khazaee, an economist who took up the high-profile post in 2007.

Iran's UN mission is its only diplomatic operation in the United States and has played a role as a conduit for unofficial exchanges of messages between Washington and Tehran on nuclear issues or the release of U.S. citizens held in Iran, Western diplomats said.

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