WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Friday said it would bar an Iranian diplomat nominated as United Nations ambassador from entering the country, in a rebuke to Iran at a time when the United States is engaged in delicate negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.
The unusual decision follows a political tempest on Capitol Hill related to the diplomat's involvement in the 1979-81 Iran hostage crisis. But U.S. officials said they did not expect the decision to disrupt the nuclear talks, which involve five other major powers.
The White House and the State Department did not give a specific reason for refusing to issue a visa to the diplomat, Hamid Aboutalebi, who worked as a translator for the militant student group that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage for 444 days.
On Tuesday, after the Senate voted unanimously to bar Mr. Aboutalebi from the United States, the administration said it had warned the Iranian government that his nomination was "not viable." The House unanimously passed the same legislation Thursday.
"We certainly share the intent of the bill passed by Congress," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "We have already told the U.N. and Iran that we will not issue a visa."
Before deciding whether to sign it, President Barack Obama will review the constitutionality of the legislation, which would ban any would-be U.N. representative who has been involved in terrorism or espionage against the United States from entering the country, Mr. Carney said.
Administration officials did not dispute suggestions that Mr. Aboutalebi's role in the hostage crisis was the cause of the action against him.
In a statement Friday, the Iranian Mission to the United Nations said, "It is a regrettable decision by the U.S. administration, which is 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."
Despite the sharp language, some U.S. specialists on Iran said they did not foresee the dispute over Mr. Aboutalebi sabotaging the broader efforts aimed at achieving a nuclear agreement. "We expect diplomatic bickering for the next couple weeks, probably followed by a new nomination from Iran," said Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst at the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm in Washington.