In a rare bipartisan vote Monday, the Senate passed a bill sponsored by Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blocking Iran’s selection of Hamid Abutalebi from entering the United States as that country’s newest United Nations representative.
Abutalebi remembers the yellow-ribbon days of the Iranian hostage crisis well – he was one of its orchestrators. One of Cruz’ chief objections to Abutalebi’s nomination concerned his involvement in the Iranian militant group responsible for capturing 52 Americans in 1979 and holding them hostage for 444 days.
“Abutalebi was one of the Iranian militiamen which stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held the staff hostage for over 400 days,” reported Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot late last month. “Iran has submitted a diplomatic visa request to the State Department for the 56-year-old statesman, who has previously served as Iran’s ambassador to Belgium and Italy.”
Cruz called Abutalebi’s selection to the U.N. “deliberately insulting and contemptuous,” a sentiment supported across the aisle from workaday political nemeses like Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“I thought it was totally inappropriate that Mr. Abutalebi was nominated in the first place,” Schumer said. “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. 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.”
With that kind of broad consensus as a backdrop, and with a companion bill before the House of Representatives, the only uncertainty late Tuesday was how the Obama Administration would receive a bill to spurn the Iranians, once it comes across the President’s desk for a signature.
Well, the White House’s response at first seemed to place the Obama Administration in full accord with the bipartisan Senate vote, but things got murkier the longer reporters probed Press Secretary Jay Carney to clarify Obama’s position. Here’s how Reuters reported it:
The White House made clear on Tuesday that it did not welcome Iran’s choice of Hamid Abutalebi as its new United Nations ambassador, saying officials had told Tehran that the selection was “not viable.”
But White House spokesman Jay Carney stopped short of saying Abutalebi would be barred from entering the United States because of his alleged role in the 1979-1981 hostage crisis, during which radical Iranian students held U.S. Embassy staff for 444 days.
“We’ve informed the government of Iran that this potential selection is not viable,” Carney told reporters.
Asked to explain what “not viable” meant, Carney said: “It’s diplomatic jargon to mean what you want it to mean.”
But isn’t that exactly the phrase Carney had just used?
Truth is stranger than fiction.