A number of senators are urging the Obama administration to deny a visa to the man Iran has picked as its new ambassador to the United Nations.
The senators say Hamid Abutalebi, who was picked by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s emissary in New York, has links to the group involved in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.
“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 for the status of our diplomats when they were stationed in his country,” Cruz said Tuesday, noting that the legislation is aimed at Abutalebi.
Current law allows the president to deny a visa for a diplomat if the applicant has engaged in espionage and poses a national security threat to the country, Cruz said. The Texas senator said his bill would allow the president to block a visa application if the prospective diplomat either engaged in terrorism or espionage against the United States, or poses a threat to national security.
Cruz quoted former President Jimmy Carter in defining the hostage crisis as an act of "international terrorism" during his 1980 State of the Union, saying he has never agreed with the Democrat more.
Cruz said he held off from requesting unanimous consent Tuesday because he was told there could be a bipartisan agreement to approve the proposal soon.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Reuters the United States should change any relevant laws that would allow the diplomat to enter the country.
“We shouldn't accept him,” he said. “We should change our rules or laws if we have to so that somebody who is guilty of that kind of behavior should not be allowed in the United States of America.”
More than 50 Americans were held hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for more than a year in the hostage crisis.
Abutalebi has previously serves as Iran's ambassador to a number of other countries, including Australia, Belgium and Italy.
Reuters reported he was part of the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, a group that occupied the U.S. Embassy in Iran during the hostage crisis. However, he was not one of the members who held the hostages during that time. According to Bloomberg News, Abutalebi has previously said he only acted as a translator and negotiator during the hostage crisis.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) also told the newswire the United States should seriously consider denying him a visa.
“That really has got to be a serious question, as to whether or not the State Department gives ... a visa to him,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf declined to talk about the issue, noting that visa applications are confidential.
“Look, visa — the visa procedure is obviously confidential,” she said during a briefing Monday. “We don’t discuss individual visa cases. People are free to apply for one, and their visas are adjudicated under the normal procedures that we adjudicate people’s. And we don’t comment, and we don’t make a prediction about the outcome of what that process might look like.”
When asked about his connection to the hostage crisis, she said “I don’t have any details for you on who, on the background of the person that they have named.”
— This post has been updated.