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Iran still awaiting US response on UN envoy pick

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Posted: Apr 8, 2014 10:49 AM

Updated: Apr 8, 2014 10:49 AM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Iran's foreign ministry said on Tuesday it is still waiting for Washington's formal response on Tehran's pick for its new U.N. envoy, a day after American lawmakers voted to bar the diplomat from entering the country.

American officials have objected to the selection of the diplomat, Hamid Abutalebi, because of his alleged participation in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The Obama administration has stopped short of saying it would refuse him a visa.

Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said Tehran does not consider the matter fully decided for now.

"We think the process is running its diplomatic course and until we receive a formal response from official channels, we do not consider the matter finished. We only recognize a formal response from official and diplomatic channels," she said.

Afkham said the ministry had communicated with "relevant U.S. officials" following moderate President Hassan Rouhani's nomination of Abutalebi.

"We continue our follow-up through diplomatic channels," she said.

The U.S. Senate on Monday approved a bill that would bar Abutalebi from entering the United States. Prospects for the bill in the House are unclear, though it is expected to have strong support.

Tuesday's remarks were Iran's first public statement about the matter since American officials raised objections to Abutalebi nomination. While she did not mention him by name, Afkham's reference to him was clear as she defended his credentials.

"In our opinion, we have introduced our ambassador. He is an ambassador with good, clear and positive diplomatic experience in various European countries and in Australia," she said.

Abutalebi, who worked as Iran's ambassador to Belgium, the European Union, Italy and Australia, reportedly has insisted that his involvement in the group Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line was limited to translation and negotiation.

Calls to officials in Tehran were not immediately returned on Tuesday to find out if Aboutalebi was a member of the students.

However, a former member of the students, Bijan Adibi who had close contacts with John Limbert, one of the American hostages during the crisis, told The Associated Press that Abutalebi was not known as a member of the group. "As far as I remember, Abutalebi was not in the main circles of those who occupied the embassy then. I think some in Washington are just using this as a pretext to make a barrier between Tehran and Washington."

The 444-day hostage crisis was a key moment in the lives of many senior Iranian political figures and led to diplomatic relations being cut between Washington and Tehran.

Some Iranians who were closely linked to the U.S. Embassy seizure later moderated their views toward the U.S. and the West. Several have held official posts in various administrations since the Islamic Revolution.

Masoumeh Ebtekar, once a spokeswoman for the student group, is now vice president in charge of environmental affairs in Rouhani's administration.

Foreign-based Farsi websites claim that the minister of economy and financial affairs, Ali Tayebnia, was reportedly another member of the student group. He visited Washington to attend International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in October.

Topics: Iran-US-Ambassador

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