WASHINGTON (AP) — The congressional outcry over allowing a former hostage-taker involved in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to serve as Iran's ambassador at the United Nations is uniting Democrats and Republicans.
The Senate could vote as early as Monday on legislation that would deny entry to the United States to an individual found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or a threat to national security. The bill was prompted by Iran's anticipated selection of Hamid Aboutalebi, who was a member of a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proposed legislation last week to deny visas to a U.N. applicant if the president determines the individual has engaged in terrorist activity. He modified his measure, though it was unclear what entity such as an international court would determine an individual's standing.
Cruz won the tacit support of Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, for his legislation, according to a congressional aide. Schumer sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week urging him to deny a visa to Aboutalebi.
"Iran's attempt to appoint Mr. Aboutalebi is a slap in the face to the Americans that were abducted, and their families; it reveals a disdain for the diplomatic process and we should push back in kind," Schumer said.
Cruz questioned the wisdom of holding talks with the Iranian government about its nuclear program in light of what he called its "deliberately insulting and contemptuous" choice for U.N. ambassador.
The United States has objected to Iran's anticipated selection of Aboutalebi, but the Obama administration stopped short last week of saying it would refuse him a visa to enter the United States. The State Department said it had raised the issue with Tehran.
Hamid Babaei, a spokesman for Iran's Mission to the United Nations, said last week, "It has been a usual practice in the Iranian Foreign Ministry to formally announce and appoint ambassadors — to all foreign postings — once all the formalities are completed."
Aboutalebi reportedly has insisted that his involvement in the group Muslim Students Following the Imam's Line was limited to translation and negotiation.