For those still trying to pedal the line that Iran is becoming a beacon of moderation in the region under President Rouhani, it must be deflating to learn that Iran is to appoint one of the 1979 U.S. embassy hostage takers as its new ambassador to the United Nations. Of course, this is really just one more reason to question either the judgment or the integrity of those who continue to insist that Rouhani’s Iran is a state that the West can do business with. Naturally, Monday morning’s press briefing at the State Department saw reporters eager to extract some official comment on the matter. But in the typically dismissive tone now symptomatic of State Department spokespeople, Marie Harf refused to give anything away, instead maintaining that this was a confidential visa issue; just like any other.
The man that Iran has made this supposedly unremarkable visa request on behalf of is Hamid Aboutalebi who was part of the militant group that took 52 American embassy staff hostage for 444 days in the wake of Iran’s Islamic revolution. The U.S. embassy in Tehran was seized and occupied in 1979 by the radical group Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, of which Aboutalebi was a member. Although Aboutalebi has at times attempted to play down his role in the hostage taking–claiming that he simply acted as a translator–his picture is still displayed on the page of the group’s website that celebrates the hostage taking. Besides, Aboutalebi began working as a diplomat for the Islamic regime shortly after the revolution. He and another of the hostage takers were sent on a diplomatic mission to Algeria at a time when the country was a locus for Third World terror groups, including the PLO.
Since then Hamid Aboutalebi has had a prestigious career. He has served as the Iranian ambassador to Australia, Belgium and Italy. And it should also be noted that Aboutalebi was part of Iran’s diplomatic service under previous President Ahmadinejad. And so really his appointment to represent Iran at the UN is just another reminder that Rouhani’s administration has preserved more continuity with previous Iranian governments than it has brought change. This should hardly be considered surprising. If Rouhani had genuinely represented such a radical break then Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini never would have allowed his name to go onto the ballot slip in the first place. Those prone to delusional levels of wishful thinking delight in parading Rouhani’s tweet wishing Jews new year’s greetings, but when it came to celebrating the revolution’s anniversary, Iranian state television broadcast simulated footage of Iran carpet bombing the Jewish state and attacking U.S. naval vessels. Rouhani’s regime is clearly lying to the West.
It should be obvious to most that Iran appointing a former hostage taker to be its ambassador to the UN is a hostile act. It certainly would be hard work to misconstrue it as a friendly one. Yet in the West politicians have been working hard to portray Rouhani’s regime as being if not friendly, then at least reasonable; open to discussion about its illegal nuclear program. The Europeans are desperate to lift sanctions so as to resume trade with Iran, the Obama administration is desperate to avoid the use of force in confronting the coming nuclear crisis.
No wonder then that the State Department was hardly enthusiastic about discussing this. When questioned on the matter Ms Harf first sought to divert the conversation to the riveting matter of administrating visas saying, “We don’t discuss individual visa cases. People are free to apply for one, and their visas are adjudicated under the normal procedures that we adjudicate people’s. And we don’t comment and we don’t make a prediction about the outcome of what that process might look like.” When that failed to satisfy reporters, Harf tried moving the conversation along by raising the matter of the latest round of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program saying; “Those are moving forward – difficult, but businesslike and on track for the third round.” No mention of whether or not Iran’s appointment of such a man as Aboutalebi to just about the highest diplomatic office is likely to harm cooperation with the West, including on such sensitive matters as the nuclear negotiations.
Clearly Aboutalebi’s appointment is significant. Such a move would not have been taken without consideration of its implications for relations with the U.S. and the West generally. Yet this move, if it goes ahead, will undoubtedly have consequences and is just another reminder that Rouhani’s Iran really isn’t so different from Ahmadinejad’s.