Sounding a defiant note over his government’s nomination of a U.N. ambassador-designate linked to the 1979 American hostage crisis, Iran’s foreign minister has dismissed those objecting to the decision – who include virtually the entire U.S. Congress – as “a group of radicals.”
“They should not allow a group of radicals to determine the agenda of Iran’s presence at the United Nations organizations and this behavior is unacceptable to us,” Mohammed Javad Zarif told Iranian reporters in Vienna, after the conclusion of a round of nuclear talks with six world powers.
“The U.S. decision to deny a visa to Iran’s appointed diplomat is unacceptable for us,” he said. “There are channels to follow this issue in the United Nations, and we will decide on the best way to follow this. The U.S. administration is well aware of the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the visa denial unacceptable.”
On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed by voice vote legislation designed to block Hamid Aboutalebi from entering the country. It would bar entry to any U.N. envoy nominee found to have been engaged in terrorism, espionage or to be a threat to national security.
A companion bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously on Thursday, and the measure now goes to the president’s desk.
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday said the U.S. had told Iran’s its ambassador pick was “not viable” but did not say whether the administration would refuse Aboutalebi entry into the U.S.
On Thursday, shortly before the House action, Carney repeated the “not viable” position to reporters onboard Air Force One, but did not indicate whether President Obama would sign the bill should the House pass it.
“What I can tell you is that we’ve made clear and have communicated to the Iranians that the selection they’ve put forward is not viable, and we’re continuing to make that understood,” he said. “In terms of legislation, I just don’t have a view on it in terms of the president at this time.”
Carney said the administration had seen “no impact” on the nuclear talks arising from the row over Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s nomination of Aboutalebi to the New York-based post.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who sponsored the Senate and House measures respectively, urged Obama to sign the bill into law
“We, as a country, can send an unequivocal message to rogue nations like Iran that the United States will not tolerate this kind of provocative and hostile behavior.” Cruz said in a statement.
“It is great to see Congress send a strong, bipartisan message that Iranian evildoers will be treated like terrorists, not tourists,” said Lamborn. “Terrorists, from Iran or elsewhere, should not be allowed to walk the streets of Manhattan with diplomatic immunity.”
Aboutalebi, a veteran diplomat who has held ambassadorial postings in Europe and Australia, says he played no part in the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, but admits being present at the occupied mission, where he says he was used as a translator.
Fifty-two Americans were held hostage by student radicals loyal to then-supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini for 444 days, before being released on Jan. 20, 1981, shortly after President Reagan’s inauguration.