U.S. Says No Visa For Iranian U.N. Envoy Pick

Image: A general view of the UN Headquarters
A general view of the UN Headquarters in New York City. Chris Jackson / Getty Images file

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In a rare diplomatic move, the United States announced Friday that it will not issue a visa to Iran's controversial choice as envoy to the United Nations.

“We have informed the United Nations and the government of Iran that we will not issue a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Friday.

She was referring to Hamid Aboutalebi, who was a member of the student group responsible for the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

“We've been very clear with the Iranians that this nomination is not viable,” Psaki said. “So there has been no secret of that, but I think they understand what the reasons are.”

The Obama administration had hoped that the issue could be resolved by Tehran simply withdrawing the nomination.

White House spokesman Jay Carney also addressed the issue on Friday, saying: “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 highly unusual. 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.

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.

Psaki said the State Department does not expect this decision to impact the ongoing talks with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Iran has called U.S. rejection of Aboutalebi "not acceptable.” 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.

-- Catherine Chomiak, The Associated Press