WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration will not issue a diplomatic visa to Iran’s new ambassador to the United Nations, the White House said Friday, complicating efforts to improve relations between the two countries.
The administration opposes the selection of veteran diplomat Hamid Aboutalebi because of his ties to the student group that took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 American hostages in 1979.
Earlier this week, the White House said Aboutalebi’s appointment was "not viable."
In a rare bipartisan vote Thursday, the House approved a measure designed to bar Aboutalebi's entry to the country. The bill already had passed the Senate.
Senior administration officials said the White House was studying the constitutionality of the measure, and Jay Carney, the presidential spokesman, did not say if Obama would sign that measure.
But on Friday, the president's team told both Iranian officials and the U.N. that it "will not issue a visa" to allow Aboutalebi to take his post in New York, Carney told reporters.
Iranian officials have said Aboutalebi is among the country’s most experienced diplomats and is committed to re-engaging with the West after more than three decades of estrangement.
The 56-year-old Aboutalebi has served as Iran’s ambassador to Australia, Belgium and Italy, and is viewed as closely alighned with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his campaign to improve ties with the West.
Iran’s government did not immediately respond to the White House announcement. On Wednesday, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, rejected moves to deny Aboutalebi his visa, telling state media that the U.S. government “is well aware that this kind of behavior is by no means acceptable for us.”