If you remember, I already covered the controversy over Iran’s envoy to the UN. The controversy is that Aboutalebi was allegedly among the students who raided the US embassy in Iran in 1979, taking hostages for 444 days, which caused the two countries to have their relationships sour which has caused most of the problems Iranians face until today. Aboutalebi has denied having a role in the hostage taking and he says he was merely an interpreter. Now, the story has considerably developed. Aboutalebi has been formally named the Iran’s envoy to the UN, Congress has overwhelmingly joined the Senate and the bill to deny him the US visa has passed, and the White House has announced that the US will not grant him a visa. Iran has formally complained to the UN saying that withholding visa is against the international laws.
On the Iranian media, two reports have shed a lot of light on this matter for me. Mehr News has reported that many former hostage takers were granted visa before, chief among them Aboutalebi himself who has been a member of Iran’s diplomatic team to the UN for more than twenty years. Also, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, one of the chief hostage takers (who’s now eliminated from power completely and is a very liberal reformist and has been barred from seeking political office by the Guardian Council), has said that Aboutalebi was not a member of the student group, and had absolutely no role in the hostage taking, and he was sent to the students because none of them knew English.
I may not trust Aboutalebi enough, but I trust Asgharzedeh enough – he was pivotal in the event and he is a very honest politician.
Of course, I still think appointing Aboutalebi was a very stupid thing to do. Rouhani is gambling his entire presidency on reducing sanctions and fixing relations with the west, endangering this delicate situation is very dangerous. Right now I understand what has happened – since Aboutalebi’s non-involvement in the hostage taking has not been an issue in the twenty years he has worked in Iran’s foreign policy, they have figured that it would not be this time as well. But there must be groups digging dirt on all Iranian officials hellbent on sabotaging the negotiations and starting war – Israeli and Iranian stupid and radical opposition chief among them, and the fact that the movement in the Congress to ban visa to Aboutalebi was led by the warmongering senator Ted Cruz is a sign. There are people who want to find something to make things sour between Iran and the West and this is that something.
Of course, the Rouhani administration should know this, and therefore he should not have appointed Aboutalebi – a very stupid move and a huge mistake. Rouhani can never be too careful, and this affair shows this.
However, like always, since Khatami’s time, the reformist administration finds itself in a very painful dilemma – if they stick with Aboutalebi, things will get ugly with Obama, if they retract, they have to face the reaction from extremists inside the regime.
It’s a lose-lose, but I think the reasonable thing to do is to stick with Aboutalebi now. If Rouhani creates the impression of caving in to American pressure, it’s very likely that Supreme Leader might pull the plug on everything, or they might impeach Zarif, or anything. Obama is a rational person, Khamenei is not – when you need to have both of them satisfied, satisfy the crazy one and hope the sane one will understand.
Actually, if this does not get TOO out of hand, it can be a blessing in disguise, the Rouhani administration can keep pointing at Aboutalebi in the future and say “See, we stood up to USA” every time that the extremists nag. But, these two countries have a bad habit of losing their shit after a disagreement, and I’ m watching this with a troubled mind.
A ray of hope is that both Washington and Tehran have emphasized that this will not affect the nuclear talks that are currently underway. Let’s hope so.