Decades later, hostage crisis still haunts US-Iranian relations

(By Deutsche Welle) The White House has refused to grant a visa to Iran’s new UN ambassador due to his involvement in the 1979 hostage crisis. The diplomatic clash comes at a delicate time in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Responding to a groundswell of domestic pressure, the Obama administration has denied a visa to Iran’s new UN ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi. The White House decision goes against normal diplomatic protocol, raising questions about Washington’s ability to unilaterally veto another country’s choice of representation at the world body.

Aboutalebi was a member of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line. The student group seized the US embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the 1979 Islamic revolution, which ousted the US-backed Shah dictatorship and brought Ayatollah Khomeini’s theocratic regime to power. Aboutalebi says he worked for the student group only as a translator and negotiator.

“Given his role in the events of 1979, which clearly matter profoundly to the American people, it would be unacceptable for the United States to grant this visa,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington last Tuesday.

Although Tehran’s decision to choose Aboutalebi may not have been politically wise in hindsight, the Islamic Republic did not intend to provoke the US by selecting him as UN ambassador, according to Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“They had sent this person to the European Union before; he had served as an ambassador in other countries,” Geranmayeh told DW. “His previous background has never been an issue in the same way that it has come up in the US context.”

“I do think that there was genuinely never an intention on the Iranian side to provoke, because if they really wanted to do that there were other applicants that have probably more difficult backgrounds to sell to the US than Hamid’s one,” she said.

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‘The US has come around to Russian thinking’

(By Deutsche Welle) After years of gridlock, the US and Russia are pushing for a joint UN resolution to scrap Syria’s chemical arsenal. Expert Joshua Landis, webmaster of syriacomment.com, tells DW that diplomacy is the best option.

DW: Can the US-Russian backed UN draft resolution achieve its goal of destroying the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons arsenal?

Dr. Joshua Landis: It’s much more likely to achieve it than American bombing. An American strike on Syria would have blown up some buildings and killed some Syrian soldiers and others, but it wouldn’t have done anything to destroy chemical weapons. It might have deterred Assad for sometime.

But this process deters Assad for at least one year, one would assume, from using his weapons. And it holds out the promise of Russian pressure on Assad to cough up the weapons. Now, Russia may have to pay Assad with more conventional weapons to get the things out.

But it’s a net positive over what the alternatives were. Otherwise, Obama was going to do this all by himself with no support from the international community or from his own people, which was a very precarious political position to be in. At least now, he has international support to root out these weapons.

Where does that leave the Syrian rebels? It leaves them in a better position because Assad is less likely to use chemical weapons for the next year at least, and probably forever, which means they don’t get killed by chemical weapons, which is better than before. It neutralizes a big element of his arsenal.

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UN takes proactive role in world politics after Arab Spring

(Deutsche Welle) After fading from the international limelight when the US unilaterally invaded Iraq in 2003, the UN Security Council has returned to center stage by demonstrating a renewed willingness to use force to protect civilians.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has adopted a more proactive role in international politics in recent months as the world has been rapidly confronted with one crisis after another. In the civil wars in both Libya and Ivory Coast, the UN mandated the use of “all necessary means” to protect civilian life.

This willingness to decisively confront international crises comes after years of a post-Iraq malaise in which the Security Council largely took a back seat as the United States unilaterally pursued its national interests around the world.

But as popular uprisings have rapidly spread from one Arab country to another, the Security Council has become the focal point of international efforts to adopt common positions on crises that impact global stability.

The council has demonstrated itself willing and capable – under the right political circumstances – of using military force and economic sanctions in order to enforce international law and human rights.

“In many ways the [Security] Council has become more active on all those fronts in terms of coercive instruments,” Edward Luck, Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told Deutsche Welle.

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