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May 27, 2017

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Iran says not considering alternative pick for UN ambassador

By Mohammad Davari

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran signaled its defiance Saturday over America's refusal to grant a visa to its chosen U.N. ambassador, saying it does not plan to pick an alternative envoy.

Tehran also said it was examining its legal options over the row, which has undermined a cautious thaw in relations after decades of enmity following the storming of the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and the hostage crisis that followed.

The United States has said it will not issue a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi because of his links to the students who seized the embassy just months after the Islamic revolution.

However, Iran's deputy foreign minister said the country was not considering any potential replacement for Aboutalebi, an experienced diplomat who has previously attended sessions at U.N. Headquarters in New York.

"We are not considering an alternative pick," Abbas Araqchi told the Mehr news agency, noting that Iran would pursue the issue of visa denial "through legal mechanisms at the U.N."

The visa row poses a challenge to U.S. President Barack Obama's drive for a diplomatic breakthrough and a global deal over Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Aboutalebi is a former ambassador to Australia, Italy and Belgium.

As the host government, the United States is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at the United Nations. It is believed that Washington has never previously denied a visa for a U.N. ambassador, although Tehran withdrew its nominee once in the early 1990s.

Fierce political pressure from Congress, which has overwhelmingly passed a bill barring Aboutalebi from U.S. soil and where skepticism about Obama's nuclear diplomacy runs high, has put the White House in a corner.

"We have informed the United Nations and Iran that we will not issue a visa for Mr. Aboutalebi," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Friday.

White House lawyers are studying constitutional issues raised by the bill which landed on Obama's desk on Thursday. Carney did not say whether Obama would eventually sign it, but he added: "We certainly share the intent of the bill passed by Congress."

The bill amends a section of the existing Foreign Relations Authorizations Act to allow Washington to withhold visas for individuals who have "engaged in a terrorist activity against the United States."

Carney said there was no reason to expect that the row between Tehran and Washington over the envoy would impact progress in talks between Iran and world powers, including the United States, over Tehran's nuclear activities.

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