As I understand it, the United States ratified a treaty that obligates it to issue visas to anyone who is appointed to serve as an ambassador to the United Nations. It was a condition of getting agreement that the United Nations would be headquartered in New York City. It seems like a reasonable expectation, don’t you think? I mean, does it seem reasonable that the United States would have what amounts to veto power over every other country on Earth’s diplomatic appointments to the United Nations?
Troublemaker that he is, I’d like to blame Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for getting our government to violate this treaty, but his bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and passed both houses of Congress with unanimous consent.
At issue is Iran’s nomination of Hamid Aboutalebi to be their ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Aboutalebi is an experienced diplomat who has served previously as Iran’s ambassador to Australia, Italy, Belgium, and the European Union. He has several degrees in sociology, including a master’s from the Sorbonne. He has written several serious-sounding books on foreign policy.
However, when he was a 22 year old student in Teheran, he was involved in the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Iran, which led to a 444-day hostage crisis. By most accounts, he wasn’t actually one of the students that overran the compound, but was brought in later as a translator. From many Americans’ point of view, serving as a mouthpiece for Islamic kidnappers is a sin that cannot be washed away by time.
The bill that Ted Cruz designed allows the president to deny a visa to anyone who “(1) has been found to have been engaged in espionage activities or a terrorist activity against the United States or its allies, and (2) may pose a threat to U.S. national security interests.” Not a single congressperson was willing to vote against language like that, despite the fact that it will result in a violation of a treaty (the Headquarters agreement) that Harry Truman signed in 1947.
Given the fact that Congress would simply override any veto, the administration has gone along with this, declaring that Mr. Aboutalebi’s appointment is “not viable,” that the president shares the sentiments of Congress, and then refusing to offer him a visa. I suppose the only alternative to this would be to have the Justice Department declare the law unconstitutional and go to court. That would be a hard slog with Congress demonstrating unanimous support for the bill. Nonetheless, it would be, as far as I can tell, the correct interpretation of the law.