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Iran says has no plans to substitute UN envoy pick

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April, 12, 2014: In this undated photo provided by the office of the Iranian President, Hamid Aboutalebi, an Iranian diplomat, who was recently named as Iran's ambassador at the United Nations, sits in his office in Tehran, Iran.AP

Iran has no plans to name a new diplomat to the United Nations, its Foreign Ministry said Saturday, after the United States blocked its pick in a rare rebuke that could stir fresh animosity at a time when the two countries have been seeking a thaw in relations.

The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi's name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pursuing this issue through anticipated legal channels at the U.N.," Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi was quoted as saying by Iran's semiofficial Mehr news agency. "We have no choice to substitute Mr. Aboutalebi."

Aboutalebi is alleged to have participated in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the embassy takeover. He has insisted his involvement in the group Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line was limited to translation and negotiation. Iran says he is one of the country's best diplomats, and that he previously received a U.S. visa. He has already served at Iranian diplomatic missions in Australia, Belgium and Italy.

Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for the Iranian U.N. Mission, on Friday said the decision was not only regrettable but "in contravention of international law, the obligation of the host country and the inherent right of sovereign member-states to designate their representatives to the United Nations."

As host country for the United Nations, the U.S. must provide rights to persons invited to the New York headquarters. However, exceptions can be made when a visa applicant is found to have engaged in spying against the U.S. or poses a threat to American national security.

Denying visas to U.N. ambassadorial nominees or to foreign heads of state who want to attend United Nations events in the U.S. is extremely rare, though there appears to be precedent. According to a paper published by the Yale Law School, the United States rejected several Iranians appointed to the U.N. in the 1980s who had played roles in the embassy hostage crisis or other acts against American citizens.

Iran's choice of Aboutalebi had pinned President Barack Obama between congressional pressure to deny the envoy entry into the U.S. and the White House's delicate diplomatic dealings with Tehran. After more than three decades of discord, U.S. and Iranian officials have started having occasional direct contact, including a phone call last fall between Obama and new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

The U.S. and its international partners also have reached an interim agreement with Iran to halt progress on Tehran's disputed nuclear program. Officials are in the midst of negotiating a long-term agreement that seeks to eliminate concerns Iran may use its nuclear capabilities to build a nuclear weapon.