UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) — Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani has selected a new ambassador to represent
Tehran at the United Nations, Hamid Abutalebi, a veteran diplomat who
has held key European postings in the past, Iranian sources said.
Abutalebi, who has served as Iran's ambassador to Italy, Belgium
and Australia, was chosen to replace Iran's outgoing ambassador,
Mohammad Khazaee, sources said. Khazaee's departure was previously
A spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission declined to comment.
Abutalebi began working for the Islamic Republic's foreign ministry
in the early 1980s, not long after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
One Western diplomat at the United Nations said on condition of
anonymity that Abutalebi was connected to circles close to Rouhani
and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, both considered to be
pragmatists who have good relations with Supreme Leader Ayatollah
Abutalebi was a diplomat under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
a hardline conservative who angered the United States and Europe
with his anti-Western and anti-Israeli rhetoric. But Abutalebi is
not considered to be close to Ahmadinejad, the Western diplomat
He added that Abutalebi is not known to have played a role in the
secret nuclear discussions between Washington and Tehran that led to
an interim deal last November between Iran and the United States,
Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. Under that deal Iran
agreed to halt some sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for
limited sanctions relief.
Tehran denies allegations from Western countries and their allies
that it is covertly developing the capability to produce nuclear
weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.
If granted a visa by the United States to work in New York as Iran's
U.N. envoy, Abutalebi will replace Khazaee.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman did not have an immediate
response when queried on Saturday about Abutalebi as head of Iran's
Khazaee was viewed by Western U.N. delegations as relatively
moderate, Western diplomats said.
Iranian sources, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity,
said Abutalebi was selected months ago to replace Khazaee, an
economist who took up the post in 2007. Abutalebi is hoping to
arrive as early as next month, the sources said.
Iranian diplomats, like the envoys of North Korea and Syria, are
confined to a radius of 25 miles from Columbus Circle in Midtown
Iran's U.N. mission is its only diplomatic operation in the United
States and has played a role as a conduit for unofficial exchanges
of messages between Washington and Tehran on nuclear issues or the
release of U.S. citizens held in Iran, Western diplomats said.
The United States severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 during a
hostage crisis, but it is required to allow U.N. diplomats to come
to New York under its host country agreement with the United
Nations. It does, however, reserve the right to refuse visas to
those seeking to work as diplomats in New York.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Cynthia Osterman)