Senate passes Cruz legislation to block Iran's expected UN ambassador
POSTED: Monday, April 7, 2014 - 9:54pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 - 9:25am
CNN — The Senate passed rare bipartisan legislation Monday to give the Obama administration more leeway to prevent terrorists from representing countries at the United Nations.
The legislation, which passed unanimously, targets Hamid Aboutalebi, who has been named by the Iranian government to be its next ambassador to the world body.
Hamid Aboutalebi was a member of the militant group that seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for more than a year.
"He is a known terrorist. He participated in holding Americans hostage for 444 days, the bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Ted. Cruz, said in an interview on Monday with CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper."
"Their naming him was a deliberate slap in the face. It was intended to be contemptuous to America," the Texas Republican added.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said, "We should not further aggravate the pain of individuals and families who suffered through the hostage crisis, by allowing this individual to have a visa and diplomatic immunity in the United States."
According to Cruz, the legislation makes minor changes to existing law that would allow the administration to block visas for an ambassadorial pick if that person poses a national security risk.
"Under the existing statute, if the Taliban in Afghanistan had nominated Osama bin Laden to be its ambassador to the U.N.," Cruz said, "we'd have to let him in, give him a visa and let him move to Manhattan. Now that's obviously absurd."
The quick passage of the legislation was also a political victory for Cruz, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, who has been criticized for having a thin legislative record.
In an interview with Iranian media, Aboutalebi has said he served as translator and negotiator, but denied taking part in the initial occupation of the embassy.
A U.S. official said the State Department has not yet responded to Aboutalebi's visa application to represent Iran at the United Nations.
He is a veteran diplomat who has served as Iran's ambassador to Australia, Belgium, Italy, and the European Union. He has also held high-profile posts in the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
Aboutalebi currently works in the political affairs office of President Hassan Rouhani and is believed to be close to the Iranian leader, who is widely viewed as a moderate with a reformist agenda.