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Congress rejects Iran’s choice for ambassador

The move forces President Barack Obama to make a decision that could have serious diplomatic repercussions

Published: Updated:

Congress on Thursday rejected Iran’s choice for ambassador to the United Nations, due to the possibility of him being a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The move forces President Barack Obama to make a decision that could have serious diplomatic repercussions, especially as Iran and the six world powers are close enough to reach a deal in Vienna over Tehran’s nuclear program.

In a rare unanimous vote on Thursday, the House of Representatives backed a bill that would bar entry to the U.S. to an individual found to be engaged in espionage, terrorism or a threat to national security, the Associated Press reported.

The vote came four days after similar action in the Senate and sends the bill to the White House.

Hamid Aboutalebi

The Obama administration opposes the selection of Hamid Aboutalebi because of his alleged involvement in a Muslim student group that held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the takeover.

American officials have told Iran that Aboutalebi is unacceptable, and the State Department indicated Thursday that the issue could be resolved if Tehran simply withdrew the nomination.

Iran has called U.S. rejection of Aboutalebi “not acceptable,” with Iranian state television quoting Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham saying Aboutalebi is one of the country’s best diplomats and argued that he previously received a U.S. visa.

Aboutalebi has insisted his involvement in the group of Muslim students was limited to translation and negotiation.

What would Obama do?

Obama must now decide whether to sign or veto legislation that could upset host country agreements with numerous nations.

Hours after the House vote, White House officials declined to say what the president would do.

Spokesman Jay Carney said the administration was continuing to tell Iran that its choice was unacceptable.

Proponents of the legislation said Obama’s choice is clear.

“When Iran said they wanted to send someone to New York City, to the United Nations under diplomatic immunity, who is affiliated with those who captured our embassy and held them for 444 days, something’s wrong there and everyone realizes that,” the Associated Press quoted Rep. Doug Lamborn, the Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, as saying in an interview.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz took the lead on the measure in the Senate, sponsoring it and securing the support of Democrats and Republicans. He pressed Obama to sign the bill into law.

Denying visas to U.N. ambassadorial nominees or to foreign heads of state who want to attend United Nations events in the United States is rare, if not unprecedented.

(With Associated Press)