Carney would not directly address the issue of whether the U.S. would deny Aboutalebi a visa to enter the U.S., to take up the New York-based posting. He is linked to the 1979 American hostage crisis.
Asked if President Obama would sign legislation passed by the Senate on Monday that would block the Iranian from entering, he said it was his understanding that Aboutalebi had not been formally nominated, but rather that it was a “potential selection.”
“We share the Senate’s concerns regarding this case and find the potential nomination extremely troubling,” Carney said. “The U.S. government has informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable.”
Asked later during the briefing what “no viable” meant, Carney replied, “It’s diplomatic jargon to mean what you want it to mean.”
“That’s actually a very candid answer,” the reporter said amid laughter, “because I can’t tell from that whether you guys would let this person into the country or not.”
Carney did not answer directly, but pointed to U.S. obligations as host country to the United Nations.
“This is an issue in terms of our – the fact that we host the United Nations and some of the issues around that,” he said.
“We have made our views as an administration known, as I did just now, about this. And we think that the legis – the bill that the Senate passed reinforces the point that we’re making, but we’ve communicated that to the Iranian government.”
“What point are you making?” a reporter asked.
“It’s not viable,” Carney said.
As host country, the U.S. is expected to issue visas for foreign diplomats appointed to U.N. posts at headquarters in New York. Under existing statutes exceptions may only be made where the visa applicant “has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities directed against the United States or its allies and may pose a threat to United States national security interests.”
The legislation passed by Senate voice vote on Monday would change that wording, to add “terrorist activity” to actions that would bar such an applicant from entering the United States. A companion bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.).
Although Carney said he understood Aboutalebi had not yet been formally nominated, Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham confirmed Tuesday that the nomination had been made, saying, “We have chosen our envoy and we have done the official correspondence for the visa application.”
“In our viewpoint, the ambassador who has been introduced is qualified for the position and has had important diplomatic posts in European countries and Australia and has shown a good, effective and positive performance during his previous career and missions,” she told reporters.
Afkham said Iran was pursuing the matter through diplomatic channels and would not consider the matter settled until it had received a formal response from the U.S.
Aboutalebi has played down his involvement in the hostage saga, which saw student radicals loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and hold 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
He says he played no part in the embassy takeover, but admits being present at the occupied mission, where he says he was used as a translator.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who sponsored the bill that passed Monday, called it “unconscionable that, in the name of international diplomatic protocol, the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard for the status of our diplomats when they were stationed in his country.”
A senior administration official briefing reporters ahead of the latest round of nuclear talks now underway with the Iranians in Vienna declined to say whether Aboutalebi’s nomination would have any impact on the negotiations.