Congress Seeks to Stop UN Iran Envoy From Entering U.S.

The U.S. Congress cleared legislation that seeks to block Iran’s choice for its next ambassador to the United Nations from entering the U.S.

The House passed the measure by unanimous consent today, three days after the Senate passed it unanimously.

Efforts to improve decades-long strained ties between the U.S. and Iran have been damaged by the Islamic Republic’s choice of Hamid Aboutalebi as its next UN envoy. Aboutalebi has been linked to a student group that led the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The U.S. responded to the takeover by breaking diplomatic ties with Iran.

“It is unconscionable that someone who participated in a terrorist activity aimed at our diplomats would be welcomed into our country as an ambassador and granted diplomatic immunity,” Representative Doug Lamborn, a Colorado Republican who sponsored a companion bill in the House, said in a letter to House leaders yesterday.

The measure doesn’t automatically block Iran’s choice, as the executive branch issues visas to the U.S. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One today, declined to say if President Barack Obama would sign or veto the bill.

Terrorist Activity

The bill, S. 2195, doesn’t mention Aboutalebi by name. Instead, it urges denial of admission to the U.S. “to any representative to the United Nations who has engaged in espionage activities against the United States, poses a threat to United States national security interests, or has engaged in a terrorist activity against the United States.”

Carney has labeled the selection of Aboutalebi as “not viable.” He stopped short of saying the U.S. would deny Aboutalebi a visa to serve at the UN, which has its headquarters in New York on international soil.

A spokeswoman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry has called the U.S. stance on Aboutalebi’s selection “not acceptable.”

Obama has the authority to deny a visa to Aboutalebi by deeming him a security threat to the U.S., yet doing so may stymie U.S.-led negotiations that aim to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Asked if there is any effect on the nuclear talks between world powers and Iran, Carney said today, “none that we have seen.”

The bill was sponsored by Senator Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican and possible 2016 presidential candidate. “The United States Senate is not just going to ignore this latest insult,” he said of Iran’s envoy choice in a speech on the Senate floor April 7.

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