Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz moved Tuesday to prevent Iran's nominee
for U.N. ambassador, a member of the group that held 52 Americans hostage in Tehran for 444 days, from entering the United States.
"It is deliberately insulting and contemptuous," Cruz said after introducing a bill to block entry to Hamid Aboutalebi, The Hill
Iran has applied for a U.S. visa for Aboutalebi, a former ambassador to Belgium and Italy; 35 years ago, he belonged to the group that seized the U.S. Embassy Nov. 4, 1979, and held American staff hostage until Ronald Reagan’s inauguration in 1981.
"The person who has been nominated to be the U.N. ambassador for Iran is a gentleman who participated in the takeover of our embassy in Iran," South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said, The Hill reports.
"This is a slap in the face by the Iranian government to the American people.... It should not be allowed to stand."
"The idea of making this gentleman the ambassador to the United Nations for Iran, when he’s violated every diplomatic principle and law … is an affront," he added.
Cruz’s bill would allow the president to deny a visa to someone who's been involved in spying against the United States — or if the president believes the person poses a threat to the nation, The Hill reports.
The State Department's next step is unclear.
"The visa procedure is obviously confidential, we don't discuss individual visa cases," spokesperson Marie Harf told Fox News
"People are free to apply for one and their visas are adjudicated under the normal procedures that we adjudicate peoples', and we don't make a prediction about what the outcome of that process might look like."
But there appears to be no way for the White House to stop Aboutalebi from representing Iran, under existing U.N. agreements, Fox News noted.
An U.N.-U.S. host country agreement generally only allows the U.S. government to reject a diplomat's visa if the subject presents a national security risk to the United States — an area Cruz's measure also stipulates.
The State Department has delayed Aboutalebi’s visa, The Hill reported. But Cruz said under current law, President Obama would have to let Aboutalebi into the country because he's an ambassador.
"This is a thumb in the eye of the United States," Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told Fox News.
"This is really Iran's ambassador in America since they have no direct diplomatic ties, and I think that it is intended to show that this regime, despite some of the p.r. moves we've heard about it, is still the same fundamentally anti-American regime it's been since 1979."
Cruz believes the Senate might take bipartisan action on the bill later this week.
"There is a real possibility of bipartisan cooperation," Cruz said. "I hope this week we see the Senate act in a bipartisan way."
Aboutalebi has said he didn’t take part in the initial occupation of the embassy, and acted as translator and negotiator, The International Business Times
reported, citing an interview he gave to Khabaronline, an Iranian news site.
"On a few other occasions, when they needed to translate something in relation with their contacts with other countries, I translated their material into English or French," he said, according to Khabaronline.
"I did the translation during a press conference when the female and black staffers of the embassy were released, and it was purely based on humanitarian motivations."
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