American anger over UN envoy’s links to Iranian hostage crisis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 8:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 8:48pm

Former US embassy workers held hostage in Iran from 1979 to 1981 are outraged that Tehran has selected a new UN envoy who may have played a role in the 444-day crisis and want him barred from US territory.

The fact that Hamid Abutalebi, a veteran diplomat who has held key European postings, has been selected by President Hassan Rowhani as Iran's new ambassador to the United Nations has been known for months.

But his potential role in the hostage crisis, first reported by Bloomberg News over the weekend, has led some former hostages to call on the administration of US President Barack Obama to reject his diplomatic visa application.

"It's a disgrace if the [US government] accepts Abutalebi's visa as Iranian ambassador to the UN," former hostage Barry Rosen said in a statement provided on Monday by Alan Madison, a member of the legal team representing the former hostages.

"It may be a precedent but if the president and the Congress don't condemn this act, then our captivity and suffering for 444 days at the hands of Iran was for nothing. He can never set foot on American soil."

Madison admitted very little concrete information was available about Abutalebi's role. "All we know is that he was involved.

"After 34 years, it's difficult to say this was a central character or this was a tangential character. But he was there, and it's our understanding that having been a participant, he still has some political credibility with some of those folks in Iran," he said.

Tom Lankford, the hostages' lawyer, went further: "At a time when the 52 American hostages and their families remain without reparations and relief, the idea that one of their self-styled kidnappers and torturers would be allowed to receive a visa, enter the US and then hold himself out at the rank of UN ambassador makes a mockery of the horrific acts he and Iran perpetrated."

The US, which severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 during the hostage crisis, is required to allow UN diplomats to come to New York, but it reserves the right to refuse visas to those seeking to work as diplomats in the United Nations.

Abutalebi is said to have been part of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, the student group that occupied the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979, but was not among the core group of student activists and was not inside the embassy during the crisis.