Former President Jimmy Carter yesterday said he is supportive of letting a known member of a terrorist group, Hamid Aboutalebi, into the United States as Iran’s newest ambassador to the United Nations.
Aboutalebi was a member of the Muslim student group who held 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for more than a year beginning in 1979 during Carter’s presidency.
When asked in an interview if the United States should block Aboutalebi’s entrance to U.N. headquarters in New York, Carter told radio station WTOP: “You know, those were college students at that time, and I think that they have matured. …I think it would be inappropriate for the United States to try to block someone that Iran wanted to choose.”
While Aboutalebi claims that he was not part of the initial hostage takeover, he admits that he was a part of the organization that carried it out. According to Iranian-American activist Banafesh Zand, Aboutalebi served as a translator at a news conference hosted by the militant group just weeks after the takeover. He was 22 years old at the time.
The Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line was the militant student group responsible for the crisis and, according to Bloomberg, Aboutalebi’s photo is still on their official website.
Unlike Carter, the State Department has raised “serious concerns” about the appointment and several members of Congress have also pushed back.
“It is unconscionable that, in the name of international diplomatic protocol, the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard for the status of our diplomats when they were stationed in his country,” remarked Sen. Ted Cruz (R–Tex.) in a statement.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) is also wary, saying in a statement that “Iran’s attempt to appoint Mr. Aboutalebi is a slap in the face to the Americans that were abducted, and their families. It reveals a disdain for the diplomatic process and we should push back in kind.”
Since the hostage crisis, Aboutalebi served as the political director general of the Foreign Ministry and was Iran’s ambassador to Australia, Belgium, Italy, and the European Union. He protests that his past has not prevented him from conducting diplomatic relations with the West before now. The Department of State has yet to clear his visa request and legislation to suspend it was brought to the Senate floor by Cruz on Wednesday afternoon.