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Iran Mulls U.S.-Trained Economist as UN Envoy After Row

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Economist Mohammad Nahavandian
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is considering Mohammad Nahavandian, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from George Washington University, for the position as the country’s next envoy to the United Nations, according to two UN Security Council diplomats and one European diplomat, who asked not to be identified. Photographer: Jerome Favre/Bloomberg

July 7 (Bloomberg) -- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may name his American-educated chief of staff to be the country’s next envoy to the United Nations, after the U.S. denied a visa to his previous choice.

Rouhani is considering Mohammad Nahavandian, 60, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from George Washington University, for the position, according to two UN Security Council diplomats and one European diplomat, who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to comment. Nahavandian also has been cited as the likely nominee in Iranian media.

In April, the Obama administration denied a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi after Bloomberg News reported on his involvement with the militant group that seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Iranian officials denied that Nahavandian has been chosen, signaling that Aboutalebi is still the nominee. “No new individual has been nominated to the UN,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, according to an Islamic Republic News Agency report today.

No Decision

“The Islamic Republic’s candidate had previously been introduced and no new decision has been made,” Parviz Esmaeili, deputy for communications and information at the president’s office, said on his Facebook page. Afkham couldn’t be reached on her mobile phone, and Esmaeili didn’t respond to a message sent via his Facebook page.

Iran may fill the post after the conclusion of the current round of talks with world powers in Vienna over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The stated goal is to reach an agreement by July 20.

Rouhani’s appointment of a high-ranking cabinet member who’s represented Iran in meetings with American politicians would signal his intention to improve relations with the U.S. and avoid another visa fiasco, said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington public policy research organization.

Close to Rouhani

“He is someone who is close to Rouhani, and that means the president will have greater involvement in foreign policy,” she said.

Iranian officials have been aware that they may need to change their nominee after the dispute over Aboutalebi, said Gary Sick, a former U.S. National Security Council official who now teaches at Columbia University in New York.

“The senior people in Iran knew that Aboutalebi wasn’t going to be accepted,” he said. “The hostage issue remains a sensitive issue, and Iran needs to move on.”

Last year, Rouhani’s first executive decree was to appoint Nahavandian his chief of staff, a measure of his close relationship with the Iranian president.

Nahavandian obtained his master’s degree in economics from Tehran University and then earned his doctorate at George Washington University in Washington.

Green Card

He also has a “green card,” making him a permanent resident allowed to work in the U.S. and travel freely in the country.

Those with U.S. citizenship or permanent residency may serve in diplomatic positions at the UN and aren’t issued non-immigrant visas, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified and declined to discuss any specific case.

After returning to Iran in 1993, Nahavandian served as deputy minister of commerce and was an economic adviser to former President Mohammad Khatami. In 2007, he was elected deputy president of the Iran Chamber of Commerce.

In September 2013, Nahavandian was one of a handful of advisers who accompanied Rouhani to the UN General Assembly.

Iran’s envoy to the UN in New York has been the country’s top emissary in the U.S. since the two countries broke off diplomatic relations in 1980. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with U.S. politicians and lawmakers during his tenure as UN ambassador.

Nahavandian’s name has been mentioned by at least three newspapers close to Rouhani. Both reformist and conservative factions have welcomed his selection, the newspaper Ebtekar reported June 30. Iran hasn’t informed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of a new envoy having been named, Ban’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric said by phone on July 3.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kambiz Foroohar in New York at; Sangwon Yoon in United Nations at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at Ben Holland, Larry Liebert

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