The State Department on Tuesday for the first time explicitly linked Iran’s pick to serve at the United Nations to the 1979 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis, saying this was the reason he will not be granted a U.S. visa.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday declined to get into the specifics of what the Obama administration believes Mr. Aboutalebi’s role was in the hostage crisis, but noted that he himself has acknowledged playing a role.
“Given his role in the events of 1979, which clearly matter profoundly to the American people, it would be unacceptable for the United States to grant this visa,” said Ms. Psaki.
Mr. Aboutalebi was part of the student group, Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in 1979.
He has described his role in the crisis as that of a negotiator and translator. He said he took on these responsibilities for humanitarian reasons.
“Regardless of that, as we all know, this was a searing experience for 52 American citizens who were held hostage,” said Ms. Psaki. “And for that reason, you know, … this is a visa we cannot grant.”
The House and the Senate last week passed legislation that would bar Mr. Aboutalebi from serving at the U.N.
The bill prevents individuals found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or considered a threat to national security from entering the U.S.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, both Republicans. Lawmakers — Democrats as well as Republicans — have described Mr. Aboutalebi’s selection as a “slap in the face” to the U.S.
The bill has gone to President Obama for his signature.
In a letter to the U.N.’s Committee on Relations with the Host Country, Iran’s government accused the U.S. of breaching its obligations under the U.S.-U.N. Host Country Agreement, that obligates it to allow foreign diplomats to travel and work at the U.N. in New York.
Iran’s ties with the West have thawed in recent months.
U.S. officials don’t expect ongoing talks with Iran over its nuclear program to be affected by the diplomatic flap.