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US Considers Visa Request from New Iranian President

The Bush administration said Monday it was considering whether to grant a visa request by Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad to address the U.N. General Assembly in New York next month. The new Iranian leader has been accused of being directly involved in the seizure of U.S. diplomats in Tehran in 1979. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States is obligated under the 1947 United Nations headquarters agreement not to impede the travel of world leaders to attend U.N. functions in New York.

But it is considering the apparently unprecedented step of denying the Iranian president a visa, if a U.S. investigation determines that he had direct involvement in the 1979 storming of the American embassy in Tehran and holding diplomats hostage for more than a year.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, a former mayor of Tehran, was elected the country's president in June.

After photos and film of the new Iranian leader appeared in the U.S. news media, several former embassy hostages came forward and identified him as having had a personal role in their capture and detention.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's own campaign web site said he was a leader of the Islamic student movement in Iran at the time of the country's revolution, but aides have dismissed charges that he had a direct hand in the embassy seizure as absurd.

At a news briefing, Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli said the charges of the former hostages are being taken seriously, and that an inter-agency U.S. investigation of Mr. Ahmadinejad's precise role in 1979 continues:

"I don't want to talk about our consultations and deliberations on this issue, to make it a public discussion," Mr. Ereli says. "I would say we are mindful of our headquarters agreement responsibilities. We also take very seriously information that someone has been involved in hostage-taking of American citizens in contravention of international law, and international practice, and that certainly is a relevant consideration in the matter at hand."

Mr. Ahmadinejad bore a resemblance to a man exhibiting a U.S. prisoner in one of the most-well known photos from the hostage affair, but U.S. experts said several weeks ago he was not the individual pictured.

However, some former hostages insist he was involved in interrogations of them during the first days of what turned out to be a 444-day ordeal for 52 U.S. diplomats and other officials.

A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said officials involved in the inquiry have not been able to corroborate the testimony of the former hostages, but neither are they saying they're wrong.

He gave no indication as to when the probe might be completed and a decision made on a visa for the Iranian leader.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is to be among the first leaders to address the General Assembly in the world summit opening September 14th to mark the 60th anniversary of the United Nations.

Officials here said they were aware of no precedent for barring a head of state or government from the U.N. headquarters.

The late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was denied a visa to address the General Assembly in 1988 because of alleged links to terrorism. He later made the speech at a U.N. meeting in Geneva.