Congress approves bill banning Iran diplomat

The House on Thursday passed legislation by unanimous consent that would ban Iran’s new United Nations ambassador, who has ties to a terrorist group, from entering the United States.

A companion bill sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) passed in the Senate on Monday. Today’s House vote sends the bill to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

{mosads}The legislation creates a politically difficult decision for the White House, which has not said yet whether Obama would sign it. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday that the administration had told Tehran they did not find the Iranian nominee acceptable, but declined to say whether Obama would support the bill.

“We’ve made clear and have communicated to the Iranians that the selection they’ve put forward is not viable, and we’re continuing to make that understood,” Carney said. “In terms of legislation, I just don’t have a view on it in terms of the President at this time.”

Cruz and the House sponsor, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), say that the ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, should be banned from entry to the U.S. because he was a member of a militant group that held 52 Americans hostage when it seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

“This is unconscionable and unacceptable,” Lamborn said on the House floor Thursday. “This bill gives the president the authority he needs to deny this individual a visa.”

Aboutalebi has already applied for a visa to work at the U.N.’s New York headquarters.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday that officials have shared lawmakers’ concerns with Iran, but she declined to offer any further detail on the status of the nominee’s visa.

“We certainly share the concerns expressed by members of Congress, and we’ve expressed those to the Iranians,” Psaki said.

She echoed previous statements from the White House, calling the nomination “not viable.”

The administration has, however, insisted the nomination would not impact ongoing nuclear negotiations. 

“The talks continue; they continue to be workmanlike and productive,” Carney said Thursday. “And we’ve seen no impact on those discussions from some of these other issues.”

The legislation sent to Obama amends the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which already allows the president to deny U.S. entry visas to U.N. representatives found to be engaging in spying against the United States, or who might pose a threat to U.S. national security.

The bill would add language to that law saying visas can also be denied to any U.N. representatives who have engaged in terrorist acts against the country.

— Justin Sink, Pete Kasperowicz and Rebecca Shabad contributed. This post was last updated at 2:28 p.m.


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