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.

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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.

Iran’s Diplomatic Duality in the Gulf

zarif_gulf Here we go again: After wow-ing the P5+1’s politicians and signing the Geneva nuclear deal, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is focusing Iran’s charm offensive much closer to home.

Readers will recall that one of the main obstacles standing in the way of that deal was the opposition of the Gulf front. The Saudis voiced loud concerns regarding the deal and the way it was achieved – as their troubled relationship with Iran is well known. They went as far as declining to join the UN Security Council, less than 24 hours after it was supposed to stand for election, because of what it views as the UN’s passive approach to Iran (as well as Syria and the Palestinians).

But The Saudis are not the only ones in the region who are concerned about the deal – it remains a focal point of worry in other Gulf states as well. While the US acts to calm them down, Tehran is working overtime to smooth ruffled feathers.

“The solution to this issue serves the interests of all countries in the region. It is not at the expense of any state in the region” Zarif stated after meeting with his Kuwaiti counterpart earlier this month (other stops in the gulf included, as this piece by the BBC states, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates).

But try as he may, Zarif’s soothing words cannot hide another aspect of Tehran’s interaction with its neighbors, one I’ve referred to in the past: the establishment of and support for subversion and espionage cells by the IRGC and its subsidiaries in these very same countries.

These are not activities expected to go away any time soon, a fact which Saudi Arabia – particularly – is probably well aware (and wary) of. Riyadh knows all too well that behind Zarif’s seductive smile lies a more sinister intention, one in which Iran pushes its agenda through pleasant diplomacy under the guise of acting in “the interests of all countries in the region.”

That’s code for “the Gulf is ours, just play along.” While the P5+1 decided to play along, Zarif has his work cut out for him with the Gulf states. They’re less easily impressed by English speakers than the P5+1.

Iranian Embassies Recruit Latin American Students

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The Washington Post recently supplied additional hard evidence of Iran’s aggressive diplomatic work at ground level in South America to advance its strategic goals there. A must-read for followers of this blog, the article by its respected correspondent Joby Warrick represents a sobering testimony to the manner in which Tehran abuses diplomatic privilege.

Content of the report is worth repeating here in some detail. It tells of “Carlos,” a Mexican law student who found himself targeted by Iranian diplomacy for recruitment purposes. According to his account, back in 2010 he met Mohammad Ghadiri, then Tehran’s ambassador to Mexico, at an Iranian embassy function. After expressing an interest in Islam, within a few months he was on a plane to Tehran with a scholarship – secured by the ambassador.

During a three-month stay, he underwent an “immersion” course in “anti-Americanism and Islam” in Spanish – with two dozen other Latin American students.

The graduates of these indoctrination schools returned back home as “committed disciples” and some are, in Carlos’s words, “crazy-obsessed” – becoming part of Tehran’s “capability to provide logistic, economic and operative support to terrorist attacks decided by the Islamic regime.” In this context, they help recruit more operatives through the mosques and cultural centers that have emerged throughout South America.

This is not the first mention of the involvement of Iranian diplomats in general, and Ghadiri in particular, when it comes to the recruiting of Latin American students. Indeed, in late 2011 the media exposed an Iran-Venezuela cyberplot intended to disrupt the websites of strategic US targets. Ghadiri was there, too.

Interestingly enough, one of the Iranian diplomats interviewed in that case admitted to contact with the students but insisted that he rejected the plan – not because it was an inappropriate situation for a diplomat, but rather because he thought the group was working for the CIA…

 

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