Obama denies visa to Iran diplomat

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The White House said Friday it would not issue a visa to Iran's next ambassador to the United Nations, who has ties to the Iranian hostage crisis.

“We have informed the United Nations and Iran that we will not issue a visa to Mr. Hamid Abutalebi,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said.

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Abutalebi has admitted that he worked as a translator and negotiator for the student group that held Americans hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran for 444 days. 

"We’ve confirmed what we’ve conveyed. We will not issue a visa. Details of visa cases including the reason [for the rejection] are not issues we can talk about publicly for legal reasons," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday. 

U.S. law prohibits federal officials from commenting on details of visa cases, she added. 

Asked if the State Department thinks the visa rejection will affect nuclear negotiations with Iran, Psaki said "No, we do not."

After the third round of negotiations wrapped up in Vienna this week, she said, "Our team did not find that this ongoing discussion in the public will impact those negotiations."

Abutalebi's nomination prompted bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill, where both chambers of Congress passed legislation that would prevent the government from providing a visa to any United Nations ambassadors with ties to terrorist attacks against the United States. 

Carney stopped short of saying that the president would sign that legislation, saying the administration was reviewing its constitutionality. 

The bill could be seen as a violation of a 1947 treaty that obligates the United States to grant entry visas to the representatives of U.N. member states, which was signed as part of the bid to attract the permanent headquarters to New York.

But Carney said the White House shared the concerns at the root of the bill, and would work to implement its “intent.” He hinted that Obama might sign it but attach a signing statement questioning its constitutionality.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the sponsors of the legislation Congress passed this week, praised the administration's decision.

But Lamborn said Obama should still sign the bill to establish the legal authority to deny Abutalebi's visa.

"I urge the President to sign the Cruz/Lamborn legislation which passed the House and Senate unanimously that actually gives the him the legal authority to deny this visa and future attempts to get terrorists into the United States with diplomatic cover," Lamborn said in a statement to The Hill.

Abutalebi is a top adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and his rejection could scuttle ongoing negotiations over the country's nuclear weapons programs. Hardliners within Iran are likely to cite the U.S. rejection of Rouhani's visa as evidence that Washington does not abide by the terms of international agreements.

Carney denied the move would have an impact on those talks.

"There's a process in place with our partners on the P-5 plus one that is moving forward in a workman-like manner and that we do not expect to be affected by this decision," Carney said.
 
The United Nations is also likely to lodge a protest over the move. 

In 1988, the U.S. refused to provide Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat a visa to speak at the General Assembly, prompting the U.N. to move its meeting to Geneva. 

The U.N. passed a resolution 154-2-1 denouncing the U.S. decision, with only the U.S., Israel and the United Kingdom not voting in favor.  

This story was last updated at 2:19 p.m.

Rebecca Shabad and Cristina Marcos contributed.