Iran's United Nations pick 'a slap in the face,' says Sen. Graham

The man picked by Iran to become its next ambassador to the United Nations is a "slap in the face" to the United States, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday.

Graham became the latest member of the Senate to oppose Hamid Aboutalebi over his involvement in the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

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“This is a slap in the face to the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days and an affront to all Americans," Graham said in a statement Wednesday. 

Graham and other senators say the United States should deny Aboutalebi a visa to work at the United Nations headquarters in New York. He said he is hopeful the Senate can send a message to Iran that the United States will "not accept this individual or allow him to represent Iran on American soil."

Graham said the pick calls into question the "so-called moderation” of Iran President Hassan Rouhani.

“Iran has been involved in worldwide terrorism plots and designated as a state sponsor of terrorism," he said. "Iran provided equipment used to kill American soldiers in Iraq. Iran supports Hamas and Hezbollah, two terrorist organizations. And finally, Iran continues its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, not a peaceful nuclear power plant.”  

Aboutalebi has previously serves as Iran's ambassador to a number of other countries, including Australia, Belgium and Italy. 

He was reportedly 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 or occupied the embassy during that time. Aboutalebi has previously said he only acted as a translator and negotiator during the hostage crisis.

A number of other lawmakers have spoken out against granting him a visa, including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Ted Cruz (Texas). Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) also said the nomination raises serious questions. 

Cruz introduced legislation that would prevent a U.N. ambassador from entering the United States if that ambassador was a known terrorist, aiming the bill at Aboutalebi. 

In a floor speech Tuesday, 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. At the time, he noted Graham was supportive.