A member of the militant group that seized the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage has been named the country’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Hamid Aboutalebi was a member of the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line (referring to the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini), the group that seized the U.S. Embassy and held American staff hostage for 444 days until Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981.
The Iranian government has applied for a U.S. visa, to which the State Department has yet to reply, Bloomberg reported.
Asked if the U.S. is aware that Mr. Aboutalebi was a member of the militant group, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to comment.
“Anyone can submit a visa application, and it will be evaluated as we do all visa applications, in accordance with our procedures,” she told Bloomberg. “We don’t speculate on what the outcome might be.”
The controversial appointment could spark the rare demand for the U.S. to deny Mr. Aboutalebi a visa.
“There’ll not be any rapprochement with Iran until hostages are compensated for their torture,” Tom Lankford, an Alexandria, Va., lawyer who’s been trying to win compensation for the hostages since 2000, told Bloomberg. “It’s important that no state sponsor of terror can avoid paying for acts of terror.”
Mr. Aboutalebi has downplayed his involvement with the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, even though his photo is displayed on the group’s website.
He has also said he didn’t take part in the initial occupation of the embassy, and acted more as a translator and negotiator.
“On a few other occasions, when they needed to translate something in relation with their contacts with other countries, I translated their material into English or French,” Mr. Aboutalebi told an Iranian news website. “I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released, and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations.”