White House: Iran’s controversial U.N. ambassador pick is ‘not viable’

Olivier Knox, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
Hamid Aboutalebi
View photos
Iranian diplomat Hamid Aboutalebi  (Photos courtesy of International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran)

The White House warned Tuesday that Tehran’s choice to be Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations is “not viable” — but hedged on whether President Barack Obama would block the envoy from setting foot on U.S. soil.

“The U.S. government has informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable,” press secretary Jay Carney told reporters.

Carney’s comments came a day after the Senate approved a bill barring diplomat Hamid Aboutalebi from entering the United States on grounds that he allegedly belonged to the group that seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 American hostages for 444 days. The measure was crafted by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a potential candidate for his party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

“We share the Senate's concerns regarding this case and find the potential nomination extremely troubling,” the White House spokesman said. Carney repeatedly referred to the choice as a “potential” selection, suggesting that the administration hopes Tehran will reverse course.

Iran has applied for a U.S. visa for Aboutalebi. A 1947 agreement requires the United States to approve visa requests for duly designated representatives of United Nations member states.

Related: Iranian human rights activist Hadi Ghaemi examines Iran's pick

In 2005, Iran sought a visa for then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The State Department openly called into question his eligibility to visit the U.S. because of alleged ties to the same hostage crisis. It ended up granting the visa request just one week before the U.N. General Assembly in September, with the caveat that the fiery Iranian leader was forbidden to travel more than 25 miles from U.N. headquarters in New York.

But just what does “not viable” mean? “It’s diplomatic jargon,” Carney said with a smile. “It can mean what you want it to mean.”

“We think that the bill that the Senate passed reinforces the point that we're making. But we communicated that to the Iranian government,” he said.