London and Tehran, Asharq Al-Awsat—Sources from the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told Asharq Al-Awsat on Saturday that discussions were being held on nominating a new Iranian Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.
The decision comes following Washington’s refusal to grant a visa to the current nominee for the UN post, Hamid Aboutalebi. His visa application was rejected on the grounds of his alleged involvement in the US embassy hostage crisis a few months after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Friday: “Washington has told the UN and Iran that it will not be issuing a visa to Aboutalebi,” and dismissed the possibility of the decision affecting the progress of negotiations between Iran and world powers on the Iranian nuclear program.
Washington had previously described Aboutalebi’s nomination as “not viable” earlier last week.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said discussions were ongoing, despite assertions by the Iranian Foreign Ministry announcing that Tehran was not planning to nominate a new candidate for the UN representative role.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqhchi said on Saturday that Iran was not considering replacing Aboutalebi, despite news agency reports that a new candidate was being considered.
One of the sources added: “Rouhani does not want an escalation with the US administration on the issue of the nomination of the ambassador to the UN, and does not want to sacrifice the gains made in the talks . . . on the nuclear issue.”
The sources added that another candidate could be selected from within the nuclear negotiation team, indicating that Araqhchi may be the new candidate.
The refusal to grant the Iranian envoy a visa represents a challenge to President Barack Obama’s efforts to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough and a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program.
The White House has found itself under strong political pressure from the US Congress, which passed a bill banning Aboutalebi, who previously served as Iran’s ambassador to Belgium, Italy, the EU, and Australia, from entering into the United States, in addition to increasing doubts about Obama’s policy on the Iranian nuclear program.
According to the Congressional legislation, Washington can refuse visas to individuals who have “carried out terrorist activities against the United States.”
Aboutalebi is accused by some in the US of being involved in the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 and the detention of 52 US diplomats for over a year, which became a defining moment in US–Iranian relations.
However, Aboutalebi recently denied any role in the seizure of the embassy, and says his involvement was limited to acting as a translator after the diplomats were detained.