The State Department said on Wednesday that it is troubled by reports that Iran has picked as its ambassador to the United Nations a man who is believed to have participated in the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Iran’s nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi would be “extremely troubling,” said State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.
“We’re taking a close look at the case now, and we’ve raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran,” she added.
On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers, including GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz and Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer, have described Mr. Aboutalebi’s nomination as a “slap in the face” to the U.S.
“This is a slap in the face to the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days and an affront to all Americans,” said Mr. Graham, a South Carolina Republican.
Kevin Hermening, who was 20-year-old Marine in 1979 and the youngest American hostage taken in the long siege, expressed outrage that one of his former captors could soon be enjoying diplomatic privileges in the heart of New York as a U.N. ambassador.
Mr. Aboutalebi and his fellow radicals “have never acknowledged, never apologized for behavior that everyone recognized was a violation of the rule of international law,” Mr. Hermening told Fox News Wednesday.
The election of Hassan Rouhani as president of Iran in the summer of 2013 has resulted in a thaw in Tehran’s relations with the West. The Obama administration and five other world powers are currently involved in negotiations with Iran to curtail its nuclear program.
A third round of talks is scheduled to take place in Vienna next week.
The controversy surrounding Iran’s U.N. pick in unlikely to impact those negotiations, the State Department spokeswoman said.
“The fact that we’re negotiating on the nuclear issue, which is incredibly important to us, doesn’t negate the serious problems we have with Iran’s behavior in a number of areas,” said Ms. Harf.
Meanwhile, some senators have called on the Obama administration to deny a visa to Mr. Aboutalebi to work at the U.N. headquarters in New York.
On Tuesday, Mr. Cruz, a Texas Republican, introduced legislation that would bar a U.N. ambassador from entering the U.S. if that person was a known terrorist.
As the host nation of the U.N., the U.S. is generally obligated to admit representatives picked by other countries to serve as their diplomats at the world body. Ms. Harf told reporters that “we do take our obligations as host nation for the United Nations very seriously.”
Mr. Cruz said in speech on the Senate floor that it was “unconscionable” that the U.S. would be “forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard of the status of diplomats when they were stationed in his country.”
“This person is an acknowledged terrorist,” he said.
“This man has no place in the diplomatic process,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “Iran’s attempt to appoint Mr. Aboutalebi is a slap in the face to the Americans that were abducted, and their families. It reveals a disdain for the diplomatic process and we should push back in kind.”
However, Mr. Aboutalebi’s precise role in the hostage crisis is not clear.
He was reportedly part of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line — a reference to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, Iran’s supreme leader at the time of the hostage crisis — which occupied the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, but was not part of the hostage takers, nor did he occupy the embassy.
Clarifying his role during the hostage crisis to the Iranian media, Mr. Aboutalebi has said in the past that he was a translator and negotiator.
Ms. Harf said the Obama administration is taking a close look at Mr. Aboutalebi’s case.
During the crisis, 52 U.S. diplomats and citizens were held hostage in Tehran for 444 days from 1979 to 1981.
⦁ This article was based in part on wire service reports.