We didn’t have to look hard to find the most talked-about Iran-related story of the week. It was everywhere, from NPR to Fox News, from the International Business Times to Bloomberg, from Al Monitor to Legal Insurrection, and was still making waves over the weekend: the appointment of Hamid Aboutalebi, linked to the hostage crisis of 1979-1981, as Iran’s new ambassador to the United Nations.
Aboutalebi was said to be a member of the group of Khamenei followers who held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran for 444 days following the Islamic Revolution. The crisis plunged US-Iranian relations into a deep freeze, from which they have only just begun to recover, with the career diplomat’s appointment once again stoking tensions between the two states. Already, Washington has balked at issuing the envoy a visa. Media outlets have been closely monitoring the controversy that has erupted over the matter, with some saying the appointment proved the Iranian leadership was the opposite of moderate and others painting Aboutalebi as a critical-minded reformist.
Al Monitor suggested the appointment wasn’t as controversial as some had made it out to be, as Aboutalebi had served in various European states and was known as a reformist with a critical view on many issues. But Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post took a different view, saying the move showed Iran was “not a normal nation state, but a fundamentalist Islamic one.” The editorial board of the New York Post said Iran was making a mockery of US President Barack Obama by appointing a man with such a history. NPR, meanwhile, took no sides, cautiously suggesting the appointment could have been either a provocation – or a miscalculation.
In Iran, reports were in the line of “I never borrowed the plate, but it broke anyway”. Khabar featured an interview with the ambassador in which he denied he was in Tehran at the time of the crisis, but blasted America for the “erroneous course of relations” that lead to it. In one breath, Press TV absolved Aboutalebi from involvement in the hostage crisis, then alleged that the takeover of the embassy was justified, as it was actually CIA spy base.