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U.S. Denies Visa To Iran's Controversial U.N. Envoy

The United States has told Iran that it won't issue a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, Tehran's controversial choice for the United Nations.

Aboutalebi acknowledges that he served as an interpreter for a group of radical students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, taking 52 American diplomats hostage and holding them for 444 days.

The rare move to deny him a visa to take up a diplomatic post comes from the White House after Congress approved legislation authorizing the government to do so.

Here's our earlier post:

Congress has unanimously approved a bill that would deny entry to Iran's U.N. ambassador, who in 1979 was a member of a student group that seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The legislation is a blanket prohibition to "deny admission to the United States to any representative to the United Nations who has engaged in espionage activities against the United States, poses a threat to United States national security interests or has engaged in a terrorist activity against the United States."

It passed in the House late Thursday after a voice vote in the Senate and now goes to President Obama, who must decide whether to sign it into law and upset diplomatic convention, or veto it and face a likely political backlash.

At immediate issue is Iran's choice of Hamid Aboutalebi as its U.N. ambassador. Aboutalebi says he only served as an interpreter for the student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the takeover.

But the White House has opposed Aboutalebi and "communicated to the Iranians that the selection they've put forward is not viable," White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday.

Iran has called the rejection of Aboutalebi "not acceptable," insisting that he is among its most able diplomats and that international protocols would be thwarted if the U.S. denied him entry to take up his post at United Nations headquarters in New York.

As The Associated Press reports:

"In past, problematic cases — such as with a previous Iranian nominee in the early 1990s and more recently with Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir — the U.S. has either signaled opposition to the applicant and the request has been withdrawn, or the State Department has simply declined to process the application. Those options, as well as approving or denying the application, are available in the current case."

The Senate bill was sponsored by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. As the National Journal writes:

"Cruz doesn't often find friends on the opposite side of the aisle, but his bill had the backing of the third-ranking Senate Democrat, New York's Chuck Schumer. 'It may be a case of strange bedfellows, but I'm glad Senator Cruz and I were able to work out a bill that would prevent this terrorist from stepping foot on American soil,' Schumer said in a statement."

NPR's Michele Kelemen examined the controversy surrounding Aboutalebi in this report last week.

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