Congress on Thursday passed legislation that would bar an Iranian official linked to the 1979-81 hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran from serving as his country’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York.
The House, in a unanimous vote, passed the bill that prevents individuals found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or considered a threat to national security from entering the U.S.
The Senate passed a similar bill earlier this week. It now goes to President Obama for his signature.
The Obama administration has opposed Iran’s decision to pick Hamid Aboutalebi as its permanent representative to the United Nations because of his role in a student group, Muslim Students Following the Imam’s Line, that stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
White House spokesman Jay Carney this week described the “potential selection” of Mr. Aboutalebi as “extremely troubling.”
The U.S. has informed the Iranian government that its choice of Mr. Aboutalebi is “not viable,” Mr. Carney said.
Responding to the passage of the bill, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday: “We certainly share the concerns expressed by members of Congress.”
An Iranian foreign ministry official was quoted in Iranian media as saying U.S. opposition to Mr. Aboutalebi is “not acceptable.”
Mr. Aboutalebi has denied taking hostages during the crisis that lasted from 1979 to 1981, describing his role as that of a translator and negotiator.
U.S. officials don’t expect the flap over Mr. Aboutalebi to hurt ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
As the host nation of the U.N., the U.S. is generally obligated to admit representatives picked by other countries to serve as diplomats at the world body.
By signing the bill, Mr. Obama would open the door to the U.S. potentially barring other foreign diplomats it considers a threat to its national security.
Rep. Ed Royce, California Republican and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Iran’s choice of Mr. Aboutalebi is not surprising because Tehran’s “primary motive is showing contempt for the United States.”
“Congress has unanimously approved legislation that sends the message to Tehran: ‘Application Denied,’” Mr. Royce said.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, both Republicans.
Lawmakers — Democrats as well as Republicans — have described Mr. Aboutalebi’s selection as a “slap in the face” to the U.S.
Mr. Lamborn on Thursday applauded the passage of the bill.
“It is great to see Congress send a strong, bipartisan message that Iranian evildoers will be treated like terrorists, not tourists,” Mr. Lamborn said.
The U.S. usually must grant visas to other countries’ choice for permanent representative to the U.N. But it has, however, restricted the movement of some foreign diplomats. Last month, the State Department announced that it had ordered Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Ja’afari, to remain within 25 miles of New York. Similar restrictions are imposed on Iranian and North Korean diplomats at the U.N.
Last year, the State Department dragged its feet on the U.S. visa application of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who wanted to attend the U.N.’s annual meetings in New York.
Mr. al-Bashir, who has been indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court, eventually withdrew his visa application.
But several world leaders with whom the U.S. does not have good relations and even has travel bans — including Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba — have been given U.S. visas in the past to attend U.N. sessions.