President Obama and Sen. Ted Cruz agree on something.
That “something” is keeping Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s proposed United Nations ambassador, out of the United States. A bill pushed by the conservative Texas Republican, which passed the Senate and House via voice vote this week, bars “known terrorists” who are serving as U.N. ambassadors from entering the U.S., and was intended to deny Aboutalebi entry to the U.S.
The United States will not be issuing a visa to Aboutalebi, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday. But Obama won’t be signing the Cruz bill into law, for now.
“We certainly share the intent of the bill passed by Congress,” Carney said. “We are reviewing the legislation and will work to address any issues related to its utility and its constitutionality.”
The controversy surrounding Aboutalebi stems from his membership in the group that took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held the American staff hostage for 444 days.
For his part, Aboutalebi has downplayed his role in the hostage crisis, saying he wasn’t involved in the initial hostage-taking and served primarily as a translator and negotiator. And Iran has thus far stood by its pick of Aboutalebi, who has previously served as a European Union ambassador.
“I appreciate the Republicans and the Democrats who worked with me to pass this legislation and I appreciate the president doing the right thing and barring this acknowledged terrorist from coming into the country,” Cruz said Friday on Fox News.
The bill passed the Senate via voice vote this week, after the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, indicated his support. Cruz’s measure closely mirrors a House bill from Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., that he introduced earlier this month. Lamborn asked House Republican leadership this week to quickly place the Senate-passed Cruz bill on the floor for a vote before they recessed for a two-week break.
The bill passed the House by voice vote Thursday. “We must not leave for the Easter recess without sending a clear and unified message that terrorists are not welcome as diplomats in our country,” Lamborn said in a statement.
If Democrats and Republicans in Washington will come together around something, it’s predictable that it would be about Iran. Taking a hawkish attitude toward Iran is a popular position on the Hill for Republicans and Democrats alike, who have previously come together to pass sanctions against the Iranian regime.
But the timing of the controversy over Aboutalebi could throw a wrench into already-complex international talks with Iran over its nuclear program, which restarted this week.
Carney said the administration’s decision to deny Aboutalebi a visa won’t affect those talks.
“We’ve communicated with the Iranians at a number of levels and made clear our position on this, and that includes our position that the selection is not viable,” Carney added.
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