Should one of the Iranians who kidnapped American diplomats in Tehran and kept them prisoner for 444 days receive a diplomatic visa from the US to represent Iran at the United Nations? Senator Ted Cruz won a floor vote by acclamation earlier this morning opposing any move by the State Department to accredit Hamid Aboutalebi, providing a unified voice in opposition:
The U.S. Senate passed legislation to bar Iran’s newly selected delegate to the United Nations from entering the U.S. because he belonged to the group that took over the American embassy in 1979.
The Senate passed the measure, sponsored by Texas Republican Ted Cruz, by voice vote late yesterday after it earlier won the backing in private talks of Charles Schumer of New York, according to a Senate Democratic aide, who asked for anonymity.
Cruz said in a speech yesterday on the Senate floor that his proposal would send a message to Iran “that the United States Senate is not just going to ignore this latest insult.”
Cruz got the vote by partnering with Chuck Schumer, who made sure that Democrats lined up behind the bill. Schumer wants to “close the door” on the kidnaper, who along with his government defied the diplomatic immunity afforded to the dozens of Americans held hostage by the Iranian mullahs:
Schumer, speaking on the Senate floor, said it was “totally inappropriate” that Iran chose Hamid Aboutalebi as its UN envoy and that it would rightly inflame the outrage of the former hostages and their families if he had been allowed to enter the U.S.
“We ought to close the door on him, and others like him, before he even comes to the United States, and that’s exactly what this bill will do,” Schumer said.
Er … not really, or at least not directly. Politically, a unanimous vote makes it clear that the Obama administration will stand alone if it issues the visa. The bill, however, does not prevent the State Department from doing so. The legislative branch has no practical power to deny a visa; the power of foreign relations lies within the executive branch, including diplomatic credentialing.
The question remains this: why would the Obama administration want to accredit Aboutalebi? Both Chuck Schumer and Ted Cruz — hardly allies on ideology or foreign policy normally — call the appointment a deliberate “slap in the face” to the US. Cruz spoke with Jake Tapper yesterday about his bill:
“He is a known terrorist. He participated in holding Americans hostage for 444 days, the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Ted. Cruz, said in an interview on Monday with CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
“Their naming him was a deliberate slap in the face. It was intended to be contemptuous to America,” the Texas Republican added. …
According to Cruz, the legislation makes minor changes to existing law that would allow the administration to block visas for an ambassadorial pick if that person poses a national security risk.
“Under the existing statute, if the Taliban in Afghanistan had nominated Osama bin Laden to be its ambassador to the U.N.,” Cruz said, “we’d have to let him in, give him a visa and let him move to Manhattan. Now that’s obviously absurd.”
The State Department should tell Iran that it refuses to credential anyone who participated in the violation of diplomatic immunity in the past — and that they can send Aboutalebi, but he should bring his lawyer and prepare to face criminal charges over what happened in Tehran 35 years ago.