Iran's UN Appointment: Deserving of a Measured Response

Often our elected officials will release statements or appear on television railing against some innocuous foreign affairs issue or one which only matters to a few campaign contributors. Unfortunately, recently an issue has emerged that deserves far more attention and scrutiny than what it is receiving. By the same token, it requires true objectivity. This would be the appointment by Iran of Hamid Aboutalebi as its representative in the UN. Aboutalebi is a seasoned diplomat, having previously represented Iran in the EU, and Australia among other nations. What’s disconcerting is that he played a role in the 1979 hostage crisis and while his exact role is still a mystery his appointment to such a diplomatic post is troubling. His role must be further ascertained but in responding to it, U.S. policy makers need to be objective.

In 1979, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was stormed and fifty-two American diplomats and citizens were taken and held hostage for 444 days. Earlier that year, the U.S. supported Iranian ruler Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in a revolution led by Ruhollah Khomeini. Pahlavi had been installed by the U.S. and British in 1953 in a military coup known as Operation Ajax and while he was closely allied with the West, his reign was marked by suppression of opponents and absolutism. His actions served to foment the forces that ultimately grew into the revolution that overthrew him and which installed an Islamic government in Iran.

Because of active U.S. involvement in Iran with the Shah, Iranians viewed the U.S. suspiciously. Following the Shahs fall, there was fear of another U.S. backed coup and the fact that the Shah was allowed into the U.S. caused emotions to boil over. And so on November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy and the rest is history. The assault on the embassy was not undertaken by the Iranian government but was supported by it shortly afterward.

U.S. policy has been to reject offering visas to anyone who was affiliated with not only the actual hostage taking but with the Iranian student union that brought it about. Furthermore, the hostage crisis was a blatant offense to the idea of diplomatic immunity, an international norm dating back centuries. Simply put, diplomats are protected not only by international law but by simple tradition. Even though the Iranian government didn't take the hostages, it had the duty to ensure the safety of the U.S. embassy and secure the release of the hostages.

And this is where the problem is. As I said before, Aboutalebi is experienced in diplomacy. And I do believe people change; given the situation on the ground at Iran at the time one can imagine getting suddenly caught up in such a movement. But that doesn't belie the fact that his appointment deserves serious scrutiny. To appoint a man involved in one of the greatest assaults on diplomatic immunity of the 20th century to represent a nation in an intergovernmental organization that is the focal point for world diplomacy is absurd.

Truth be told, by his own admission, Aboutalebi claims to have taken an only minor role as serving as an interpreter several times, a story corroborated by others who took prominent roles in the hostage crisis. And it has been suggested that a larger role in the crisis being attributed to him is the work of Iranian hardliners who seek to impede the moderate Rouhani government. Last year I was able to attend the first public speaking event by a senior Iranian official in the U.S. in decades, Iranian UN Ambassador Khazaee. Despite being appointed by former hardline Iranian President Ahmadinejad, Khazaee was a typical diplomat and by that I mean he was diplomatic. With that in mind, I find it odd that a moderate Iranian government that is reengaging the West would seek to place a person so objectionable.

What can the U.S. do and what should the U.S. do? That's where it becomes complicated. Politicians railing against Aboutalebi must understand that he was appointed to represent Iran in the UN, not the U.S. If it was the case of the latter (a situation that would require both nations having diplomatic relations which they don't), the President can simply fail to accredit him. Never mind that Iran appointing such a person to the U.S. would be viewed as a slap in the face to the U.S. and those taken hostage. Though this simply isn't the case and currently, the State Department is holding up his visa.

With this in mind, the U.S. must be careful and should ascertain his role. Even if his involvement was limited to being an interpreter, he aided those who held U.S. citizens hostage for over a year and who were subjected to various forms of mistreatment in the event that served to sever U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations. If his role is found to be minimal, I believe he must admit to what he did and admit that what occurred was an egregious violation of international law; a diplomat who can't admit to that has no right to serve in the field of diplomacy. If the U.S. and Iran are truly interested in bettering relations with each other, getting Aboutalebi to do this should not be difficult as it doesn't demean either country but instead serves to reinforce a long held international norm; even more so in light of the events that occurred in Benghazi.

Apart from that, there is little the U.S. can do. This is a troubling situation but our response should be measured and based on facts, not populist attitudes. Personally, some of this Administrations ambassador appointments are for more worrisome then Aboutalebi.

Posted by SPBrooker at April 8, 2014 5:41 PM
Comments
Comment #377813

First of all, there can be no trust between the US and Iran. They lie to us and no amount of bowing or reconciliation will ever change this fact. Secondly, Obama has been sympathetic to all Muslim nations. Obama is in his second term with no future elections to run; so his goal is to push his own agenda and to hell with anyone else and even his own party. Aboutalebi should be banned from ever entering the country simply because it is a slap in the face of Americans.

Posted by: James T. Kirk at April 9, 2014 6:14 AM
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