Chalk up a big win for Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose bill to “deny admission to the United States to any representative to the United Nations who has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities or a terrorist activity against the United States and poses a threat to United States national security interests” won overwhelming support in Congress, including a rare unanimous House vote on Thursday. Friday morning saw the White House announcing that the individual whose U.N. ambassadorship prompted this bill, Hamid Aboutalebi of Iran, would not be issued a visa.
The Cruz bill still awaits presidential signature, but meanwhile it looks like Aboutalebi – a member of the student organization that took hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 – won’t be serving as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations. The Iranian government claims Aboutalebi was only serving as a translator for the hostage-takers, and has said that American refusal to accept him as UN ambassador is “not acceptable.”
Aboutalebi has also been accused of masterminding a more recent political assassination in Italy, where an Iranian defector and opposition leader named Mohamed Hossein Naghdi was shot twice in the face in 1993. The Iranian government has long denied involvement in this killing.
Cruz called Iran’s nomination of Aboutalebi to represent them at the UN “deliberately insulting,” urging that “we, as a country, can send an unequivocal message to rogue nations like Iran that the United States will not tolerate this kind of provocative and hostile behavior.” Withholding the visa isn’t quite as “unequivocal” as signing Cruz’s bill into law and slapping a “return to sender” sticker on Aboutalebi’s forehead would be, but it’ll do for the time being.
Senator Cruz won applause from some generally hostile quarters for his skill in getting the bill passed quickly, with overwhelming bipartisan support. Granted, this was an issue where it was fairly easy to find consensus from both Republicans and Democrats, but Cruz got it done with remarkable alacrity, and very little of the usual grandstanding. The only real concession he had to make was tightening the language of the bill slightly, to make it palatable to the White House. He got Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on board last weekend, resulting in a letter from Schumer to Secretary of State John Kerry that described Aboutalebi’s prospective ambassadorship as “a slap in the face to the Americans that were abducted, and their families,” adding that it “reveals a disdain for the diplomatic process, and we should push back in kind.”
Cruz also worked with Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), who introduced similar legislation in the House. “This is a great example of leadership in action by both Houses of Congress,” Lamborn said, following the unanimous House vote. “After Senator Cruz worked to ensure Senate passage earlier in the week, I felt that it was extremely important that the House respond in-kind by considering the Cruz/Lamborn bill in an expedited manner. It is great to see Congress send a strong, bipartisan message that Iranian evildoers will be treated like terrorists, not tourists. Terrorists, from Iran or elsewhere, should not be allowed to walk the streets of Manhattan with diplomatic immunity.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Thursday that the Iranian government was told “the selection they’ve put forward was not viable,” but wouldn’t say whether President Obama intended to sign the Cruz bill. After Aboutalebi’s visa was denied, Carney said, “We certainly share the intent of the bill passed by Congress,” and that the White House was “reviewing the legislation and will work to address any issues related to its utility and constitutionality.”