Opinion

Congress puts fate of Iran's choice for U.N. ambassador in Obama's hands

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Iran,Terrorism,United Nations,Foreign Policy,Charles Hoskinson

The White House isn't saying whether President Obama will sign legislation designed to block a visa for Iran's new ambassador to the United Nations, but spokesman Jay Carney predicted the crisis would have "no impact" on the ongoing nuclear talks.

The legislation cleared the House by unanimous consent on Thursday, after getting unanimous approval in the Senate on Monday. With that kind of support, it would be hard for Obama to veto.

The bill, which would bar visas for U.N. envoys who have been found to have engaged in espionage activities or terrorism against the U.S. or its allies or may pose a threat to U.S. national security interests, is aimed at Hamid Abutalebi because of his alleged role in the 1979 student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Abutalebi insists his role was limited to translation and negotiation.

"It is great to see Congress send a strong, bipartisan message that Iranian evildoers will be treated like terrorists, not tourists. Terrorists, from Iran or elsewhere, should not be allowed to walk the streets of Manhattan with diplomatic immunity," said Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., sponsor of the bill in the House.

The White House previously called Abutalebi's selection "not viable," a point Carney reiterated Thursday. He would not, however, specify what would happen next.

"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," he said. "In terms of legislation, I just don’t have a view on it in terms of the president at this time."

But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham called U.S. rejection of Abutalebi "unacceptable," noting that he was a highly-skilled diplomat who once obtained a U.S. entry visa in the 1990s to attend a U.N. meeting, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Obama has been reluctant to do anything that might interfere with a deal limiting Iran's nuclear ambitions, a top priority of his administration's foreign policy. When asked if the dustup over Abutalebi had affected the ongoing talks, Carney said: "None that we have seen. That's a kind of fill-in-the-blank question when it comes to Iran with the issues that we have with them, that we continue to have serious disagreements with Iran over. And this matter is but one.

"The talks continue; they continue to be workmanlike and productive. And we’ve seen no impact on those discussions from some of these other issues."

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