Congress backs bill to bar Iran ambassador

April 10, 2014 

— Congress sent President Barack Obama a bill that would bar Iran’s choice for ambassador to the United Nations from stepping on U.S. soil in an outcry over the prospect of a 1979 hostage-taker at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran entering the country.

The House unanimously approved the legislation on Thursday by voice vote, four days after a similar vote in the Senate. The unusually quick action underscored the strong bipartisan opposition to Iran’s choice.

American officials have objected to the selection of Hamid Abutalebi because of his alleged participation in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days in the 1979 incident.

The Obama administration has told Iran the choice is unacceptable in a clear attempt to get Tehran to back down and make another selection. The dispute comes amid nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers.

Ahead of the House vote, White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to say whether Obama would sign the legislation. Carney reiterated the administration’s earlier assertion that Iran’s selection for U.N. ambassador is “not viable” and said the White House was continuing to “make that understood” to the Iranians.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., who sponsored the bill in the House, said the overwhelming response from Congress places Obama under tremendous pressure.

“I can’t see him doing anything but signing it,” Lamborn said in an interview.

The lawmaker joined forces with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who sponsored the measure in the Senate, and earlier this week called the nomination “a deliberate and unambiguous insult to the United States.”

The bill would impose a blanket prohibition, denying entry to the United States to an individual found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or a threat to national security.

Denying visas to U.N. ambassadorial nominees or to foreign heads of state who want to attend United Nations events in the United States is rare, if not unprecedented.

In past, problematic cases – such as with a previous Iranian nominee in the early 1990s and more recently with Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir – the U.S. has either signaled opposition to the applicant and the request has been withdrawn, or the State Department has simply declined to process the application. Those options, as well as approving or denying the application, are available in the current case.

U.S. immigration law allows broad rejection of visas to foreigners and, in many cases, do not have to give an explicit reason for why other than to deem the applicant a threat to national security or American policy.

The law bars foreigners whose entry or activity in the U.S. would “have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States.”

It also bars people who have engaged in terrorist activity, which the law defines as including seizing and detaining others; threatening to kill, injure or continue to detain them; and violent attacks on internationally protected persons such as diplomats and other agents of the U.S. government.

Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Matthew Lee and Lara Jakes contributed to this report.

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