Apology Darkens Aboutalebi Shadows

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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.

Aboutelabi in the Eye of the Storm

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Should Hamid Aboutalebi be viewed as a diplomat or as a suspected participant in terrorism?

The Iranians say that he is to be viewed as a diplomat because they say so and because UN laws bar the US from not issuing visas to UN diplomats.

They aren’t open to discussions on Aboutelabi’s involvement in the American embassy hostage crisis affair in 1979. Neither are they open to discuss his suspected involvement in a political assassination in Italy in 1993 nor do they accept the US’s version of “terrorism”.

Is Aboutelabi innocent of these accusations? We’ll probably never find out because he isn’t available for questioning and the Americans feel that Aboutelabi would have to prove his innocence or at least be willing to go to court in order to get a visa.

Either that or he will have to convince President Obama to rescind the bill he signed that effectively bars him from legally gaining entry to the US.

The Iranians are sticking to their guns and are making a big deal of the question of legality since Aboutelabi is a diplomat who is supposed to work in the UN and is therefore under diplomatic immunity. The UN has agreed to look into the legality of this issue but they are now accused by Iran of “dragging their feet” and not doing so fast enough. It seems that denying Aboutelabi his visa is both legal in accordance to the laws of the US and illegal according to the laws of the UN.

Perhaps the US should let Aboutelabi into the country but simply limit his presence to the airport, the UN and travel in between. It would be a more elegant solution that would probably satisfy both sides.

In any case, his status as an ambassador to the UN vis-à-vis relations with the US is weak under these circumstances.

Aboutalebi Appointment Adds Insult to Injury

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You can say a lot of things about the Iranian regime – but one thing that you must know, is that they have the most twisted sense of humor.

This time, we’re addressing the appointment of the Hamid Aboutalebi as the new Iranian ambassador to the United Nations. Aboutalebi was one of the architects of the American  Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran in 1979-1981 and a key operative behind political assassinations, most notably, that of Mohammad Hossein Naghdi in Italy in 1993.

But, this joke is not funny anymore and the US Senate approved a bill to bar the ambassador to the United Nations from entering the United States.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz went as far as saying that the “nomination is a deliberate and unambiguous insult to the United States”.

This incident went as high as the White House – Press Secretary Jay Carney called the potential nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi “extremely troubling”. Later, Carney said that the white house sent a message to the Iranian government saying that this choice is “not viable”. On a side note, it’s nice to see that the Iranians can bring together the Republicans and the democrats…

The Iranians, who apparently thought that they can do whatever they want and get away with it (It’s been working quite alright for them so far…) are trying to calm the matter down –in an interview he gave beforehand, Aboutalebi tried to tell his version of the story, that he was only helping in translation to the terrorists.

Cut to the chase: Iran seems to have enough accomplished diplomats and choosing Aboutalebi to serve in New York is either a bad idea or a great way to taunt the US, both option being unecessary at a time when Iran and the West seem to be getting along so well.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Back Home in NYC


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Tehran’s ambassadors to the UN are a privileged class. First, because they hold one of the top – if not the top – post in Iran’s foreign service. Second, because they belong to an elite group of Iranian officials who studied and worked outside of Iran – and who know how to speak to the West.

It is therefore no surprise that current Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who served as his country’s UN ambassador from 2002-2007, and Mohammad Khazaee – who replaced him in 2007 (and is still there) – both studied in the US, and come off as so cool and smart.

Underneath their polished ways, however, lurks a darker side.

Let’s start with Zarif, a central figure in President Hassan Rouhani’s delegation to the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. Few of those wining and dining him probably recall that while UN ambassador back in 2006 he was involved in a defamation lawsuit filed by the pro-regime lobby in the US, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), against Iranian–American journalist Hassan Daioleslam (a case which NIAC eventually lost).

The incident is certainly worth recalling, as made clear by documents brought to light during the case – include e-mails between Zarif and  NIAC head Trita Parsi , which clearly indicate that the two were collaborating to the point of breaking US information and tax laws.

In effect, the Iranian ambassador took advantage of his formal position – to handle his country’s diplomatic affairs at the UN – in order to coordinate the activities of the pro-regime lobby in the US.

Zarif’s not alone in implementing this sort of modus operandi. Published documentation indicates that his successor, Khazaee, not only continued the cozy relationship with Parsi – he also hasn’t shied away from breaking US law when it serves Tehran’s interests.

Indeed, Khazaee is suspected of attempting to circumvent US sanction laws in at least two cases during his term:

  • ·         The Alavi Foundation case – Khazaee was implicated in a law suit for his active and personal involvement in managing the non-profit foundation, which served as a front for Iran’s state-owned Bank Melli – sanctioned by the US for its connection to Tehran’s nuclear program.
  • ·         The Ali Amirnazmi case – Khazaee was implicated for his involvement in a sanctions-busting attempt to transfer a sensitive business from the US to Iran (Amirnazmi was eventually convicted).

No country’s diplomats appear to be as skilled in maneuvering around diplomatic immunity as the Iranians. And nobody knows how to do it better than Zarif – now Tehran’s top diplomat – who clearly taught his successor Khazaee well.