WASHINGTON — The Senate voted unanimously Monday night to bar Iran’s newly named ambassador to the United Nations from entering the United States, charging that he was involved in the hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
The vote came together in a matter of hours after Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat, joined forces with Sen. Ted Cruz, the Tea Party firebrand from Texas, who has been inveighing against the ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, for more than a week.
“It may be a case of strange bedfellows, but I’m glad Senator Cruz and I were able to work out a bill that would prevent this terrorist from stepping foot on American soil,” Schumer said after the voice vote.
Cruz called the vote “a rare moment of clarity” in Washington.
The State Department declared this month that the nomination of Aboutalebi was “extremely troubling,” but the State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf, stopped short of demanding he be barred.
“We’re taking a close look at the case now, and we’ve raised our serious concerns about this possible nomination with the government of Iran,” Harf told reporters last week.
Aboutalebi was to become the permanent representative of Iran at the United Nations in July, after serving as Iran’s ambassador to Australia, the European Union, Belgium and Italy.
But it was his membership in the Muslim student group that took the hostages in 1979, the Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, that led to bipartisan opposition to his selection as ambassador. After storming the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the group held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
Aboutalebi has said that his role was only to translate and negotiate for the group. He told a conservative Iranian news website that he was not in Tehran at the time that the embassy was seized, but he did not deny he had some involvement afterward.
“Once or twice that they needed translation to English or French to communicate with the outside world, I did it, including when they released women and black staff, which happened on humanitarian grounds,” The Guardian quoted him as saying.
The Senate legislation would deny admission to “any representative to the United Nations who has engaged in espionage activities against the United States, poses a threat to United States national security interests or has engaged in a terrorist activity against the United States.”
The House is also expected to approved the measure.