Controversial Iranian UN Pick Faces Congressional Pushback

Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are moving to enact legislation that would prevent Iran from securing a visa for its newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, just a day after Businessweek had already described the choice of Hamid Aboutalebi as creating a “dilemma” for President Barack Obama’s diplomacy toward the Islamic Republic.

Aboutalebi was a member of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line when the group in 1979 seized scores of Americans inside the U.S.’s Iran embassy and subsequently held them for 444 days. Analysts had quickly assessed that allowing Aboutalebi to serve in New York on Iran’s behalf would be seen by U.S. allies as evidence that “Washington is willing to ignore Iranian misbehavior in our pursuit of a nuclear accord.”

The Hill reported Tuesday that Senators were urging President Obama to act against the Aboutalebi appointed, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced legislation that would empower the president to deny a visa to any U.N. representative considered a terrorist.

“It is deliberately insulting and contemptuous,” Cruz said after introducing a bill that would prevent the ambassador from entering the United States.

“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 [in 1979],” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said. “This is a slap in the face by the Iranian government to the American people. … It should not be allowed to stand.”

The legislation was reported as having bipartisan support – it garnered positive quotes from Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ) – and on Wednesday parallel legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO).

“America should not willingly accept into our country a diplomat who helped hold American diplomats hostage. Diplomatic immunity should not apply to terrorists. The only way terrorists should be allowed into our country is if they are coming to face justice. The President can already deny visas to diplomats for spying. Terrorist activities by diplomats, past or present, should be dealt with just as severely,” said Lamborn.

The administration has sought to remain largely circumspect on the issue, with State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf describing visa procurement procedures as “obviously confidential.” It is unclear how long such a stance can be maintained.

Skeptics of the White House’s engagement with Iran – which administration officials have sought to insulate from interference by insisting that a positive “spirit of Geneva” must be maintained – have portrayed the pick as a deliberate provocation.

[Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr ]