Iranian Hostage-taker 'Not Viable' for UN Appointment, White House Says

Iran taps a former member of student group responsible for 1979 hostage-crisis for UN envoy, a choice U.S. finds 'troubling.'

A man holding a sign during a protest of the crisis in Washington, D.C., in 1979.
A man holding a sign during a protest of the Iran hostage crisis in Washington, D.C., in 1979. Wikicommons

A bill approved by the Senate that would bar a former Iranian hostage-taker from becoming Iran's ambassador to the United Nations reinforces the White House view of the appointment, a spokesman said Tuesday.

The White House has informed Iran that it considers the appointment of Hamid Abutalebi "troubling," Jay Carney told reporters. Abutalebi was a member of a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage after seizing the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.

"We've informed the government that that selection is not viable," Carney said.

The legislation that would bar Abutalebi passed the Senate on Monday and now moves to the House of Representatives, where its prospects are unclear.

The bill would deny entry to an individual found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or a threat to national security. Republicans and Democrats united in approving the legislation sponsored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

The "nomination is a deliberate and unambiguous insult to the United States," Cruz said Monday. In a statement posted at his website Cruz said the nomination was part of Iran's "clear and consistent pattern of virulent anti-Americanism that has defined their foreign policy since 1979."

Iranian President Hassan Rohani appointed Aboutalebi, who reportedly has insisted that his involvement in the hostage matter was limited to translation and negotiation.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry doesn't consider the question fully decided, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Tehran is still waiting for Washington's formal response to the appointment, the spokeswoman said.

"We think the process is running its diplomatic course and until we receive a formal response from official channels, we do not consider the matter finished," foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham told CBS News. "We only recognize a formal response from official and diplomatic channels."

Farhan Haq, spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, said the matter was between the US and Iran and declined to comment except to say he expected the host country agreement to apply. That agreement says when visas are required, "they shall be granted without charge and as promptly as possible."