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Former U.S. Hostages Protest Iran's Choice For UN Envoy

Iran's newly appointed UN Envoy Hamid Abutalebi
Americans who were held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran are calling for Washington not to issue a visa to the man appointed to be Iran's new envoy to the United Nations.

Hamid Abutalebi was part of a radical student group that seized the embassy in Tehran in 1979. Fifty-two U.S. diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days.

Former embassy workers say Abutalebi should not be allowed into the United States because he was a member of "Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line," the group that stormed and seized the embassy.

Former hostage Barry Rosen said it would be an "outrage" and a "disgrace" if Abutalebi was granted a visa to represent Iran at the United Nations in New York.

Abutalebi, a veteran diplomat who was most recently a deputy political advisor in Iran's presidential office, has previously served as Iran's ambassador to Australia, Belgium, Italy, and the European Union.

Another former hostage, Ambassador John Limbert, told RFE/RL that Abutalebi's "very odd" appointment stirs up the nastiest episodes of the past and tears open old wounds.

"Even if he does eventually come to New York, he will be useless as spokesperson for the Islamic republic," Limbert said

"Previous ambassadors have taken on that role, but who here -- considering his past -- will ever listen to him [Abutalebi]?" he added.

In a March 14 interview with the Iranian Khabaronline news site, Abutalebi denied playing a role in the actual hostage-taking.

He said he wasn't in Tehran at the time of the embassy takeover, and had only taken part later as a translator.

"I translated their [hostage-takers] material into English or French," he said. "For example, I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations."

Abutalebi was selected to replace Iran's outgoing envoy to the UN, Muhammad Khazaee, who according to some Iranian media reports has already returned to Tehran.

"The Washington Post" reported on March 11 that the 56-year-old Abutalebi has been waiting for his U.S. visa for months.

On March 31, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to comment on the case.

"We don't discuss individual visa cases," she said. "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; we don't make a prediction about what the outcome of that process is."

Iran's Foreign Ministry has not reacted to the controversy surrounding Abutalebi's appointment, which was first reported in Iranian media.
With reporting by Reuters, CNN, and Fox News
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