Lingering Power of Hostage Crisis Short-Circuits Iranian Nominee - NYTimes.com:
ARIS — When Iranian militants seized the United States Embassy and took dozens of Americans hostage on an overcast Sunday morning in November 1979, I assumed it was just a brief anti-American sit-in. My main concern, I told my editors at Newsweek, was not how dangerous Tehran would be. It was whether it would still be a story by the time I arrived there from Paris the next day.
I sure got that wrong. The “Iran hostage crisis,” as we called it, lasted 444 days. And as demonstrated by the powerful opposition in Washington last week to Iran’s choice for its next United Nations ambassador, it is not over.
During the crisis, President Jimmy Carter froze Iran’s assets, broke diplomatic relations, changed his re-election strategy and ordered a failed military rescue mission that left eight American servicemen dead. The hostage ordeal helped get Ronald Reagan elected as president.
Nearly 35 years later, many Americans do not remember or have never heard of that dark episode in American diplomatic history. It took the 2012 film “Argo,” which dealt with only one chapter of the crisis, to return it to the American consciousness.
But politically, the hostage crisis has not been forgotten. It still has the power to traumatize Washington.
The current diplomatic firestorm is the result of Iran’s nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi, a senior political adviser to President Hassan Rouhani, as ambassador to the United Nations. On paper, he is just about perfect: a fluent French and English speaker with a doctorate in sociology from a prestigious Catholic university in Belgium and a former ambassador to Italy, Australia, Belgium and the European Union.
Mr. Aboutalebi admits that he had a bit part in the hostage drama. He was not part of the takeover of the 27-acre embassy compound or even in town when it happened. But the hostage-takers lacked foreign-language skills, and early in the crisis, he agreed to be an interpreter and translator on a small number of occasions. He was 22 at the time.
In an interview in Iran in mid-March, Mr. Aboutalebi said he had been the interpreter for the Vatican’s special representative when he visited the embassy. He added that “one or two other times” he had done translations into English or French, including interpreting at a news conference two weeks into the hostage crisis when the occupiers decided to release 13 hostages.
“It was based purely on humanitarian motivations,” Mr. Aboutalebi said of his involvement.
There is no evidence that Mr. Aboutalebi served as a regular interpreter or translator or participated in interrogations of the hostages.
During the crisis, President Carter called the hostages “victims of terrorism and anarchy.”
So he could be forgiven for seeking vengeance against Iran today. Instead, Mr. Carter has called on the United States to move on. “Those were college students at that time, and I think that they have matured,” he said on a recent radio program, adding, “It would be inappropriate for the United States to try to block someone that Iran wanted to choose.”
But saying no to Iran over an ambassadorial choice comes at no political cost in Congress, so it was easy for both houses to vote unanimously to prevent Mr. Aboutalebi from entering the United States. And on Friday, the White House said it would not grant Mr. Aboutalebi a visa, effectively scuttling the nomination.