The Washington Post

Senate passes Cruz-backed bill to bar Iran’s U.N. ambassador

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). (David J. Phillip/AP)

Updated 7:05 p.m.

A measure that would ban Iran's recently appointed ambassador to the United Nations from entering the United States was approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate Monday evening, a legislative victory for its lead sponsor, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).

Several aides confirm that Cruz talked over the weekend with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chamber's third-ranking Democrat, who also has been pushing aggressively for sanctions against Iran and for the Obama administration to block granting a visa to the new envoy.

The measure would bar Iran's newly tapped U.N. ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, from entering the country. Aboutalebi participated in the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. He was appointed earlier this year to the post by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The pick has been criticized by Obama administration officials, who have called his nomination “extremely troubling.”

In recent months, Aboutalebi’s visa to enter the U.S. as a diplomat has been stalled, with growing questions about his role in the taking of American hostages for 444 days. Aboutabeli has said publicly that he worked with the Muslim student group that took over the embassy, but has played down his role.

As host nation of the United Nations headquarters, the United States generally admits the chosen representatives of U.N. members, with limited exceptions.

"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. I'm not going to get into specifically how we've done that, but we have done that," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a press briefing last week.

In a deeply divided Senate, the idea of Cruz and Schumer — two often-intense partisans — working together on anything is almost fanciful, but aides said that in their conversation, Schumer privately signaled to Cruz that the Texan’s legislation would be able to come to the floor likely without Democratic objections.

The conversation came after both senators expressed their opposition to Aboutalebi last week. In a speech, Cruz said, “It is unconscionable that in the name of international diplomatic protocol the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard of the status of diplomats when they were stationed in his country. This person is an acknowledged terrorist.”

And in a letter sent to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Schumer described Aboutalebi as “a major conspirator” in the Iran hostage crisis and that his nomination to represent Iran at the U.N. “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.”

Cruz's bill now will have to be approved by the House. Leadership aides didn't immediately return requests for comment about the bill's prospects in the GOP-controlled House.

Robert Costa is a national political reporter at The Washington Post.
Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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