Aboutalebi’s appointment to ambassador seemed shady to begin with.
If he had been involved beyond his role as translator, it would be ironic and even demeaning for him to act as ambassador to the UN while actively curtailing the freedom of diplomats in his own country. Perhaps his involvement in the hostage crisis did not warrant being denied a visa but something about Tehran’s insistence never felt quite right.
That’s probably because Tehran still does not view storming the American embassy and holding the 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days a crime of any kind.
Hardliners would argue that Khomeini, at the time, had deemed all of the hostages American spies and, as such, they were not viewed as innocent victims and definitely not diplomats.
The controversy over the legitimacy of Aboutalebi’s appointment and of storming the embassy was fuelled last week by an apology to the families of the hostages by Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the former leaders of the people who stormed the embassy. Asgharzadeh, a reformist politician with aspirations for the presidency, expressed his apologies to the hostages and their families during a speech to the Iranian Students’ union on April 14th.
Reactions were swift and vicious. The semi-official Fars news named him one of the “regrets of the week” alongside Hillary Clinton and Shimon Peres and accused his apology of being a clear contradiction to Khomeini’s ideals. Asgharzadeh was counseled to apologize instead to the Iranian nation for having suffered for 30 years under America and the Shah and then apologize to the Iraqi women and children who had died under American hands.
For his part, Asgharzadeh believes that his apologies were legitimate, echoing the expressions of sympathy by then president Khatami 15 years ago. He also believes that issues between Iran and the US have to be resolved because if they aren’t, they “will cast a persistent shadow” in the future. Furthermore, he contends that Khomeini had intended normalization with the US even at the time, having opposed to the idea of appropriating the embassy as offices by asking “are relations with America to be cut forever?”.
Asgharzadeh’s spotlight of humanity shone through all the way from Tehran to New York and made the shadows around Aboutalebi and Tehran’s denial that much darker.