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Obama signs law to bar Iranian, Hamid Aboutalebi, then says he won't enforce it

Hamid, in 1979 and 2014
Hamid, in 1979 and 2014

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Today, the Washington Examiner reported that President Obama signed into law a bill authored by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz that would bar an Iranian diplomat, Hamid Aboutalebi, from entering the United States; then Obama immediately issued a statement saying he won't enforce it.

Obama decided to treat the law as mere advice. "Acts of espionage and terrorism against the United States and our allies are unquestionably problems of the utmost gravity, and I share the Congress's concern that individuals who have engaged in such activity may use the cover of diplomacy to gain access to our Nation," Obama said in his signing statement. So the question remains, so why not enforce it? Is this another example of emboldening our enemies?

The legislation was directed at Hamid Aboutalebi, whom Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tapped as U.N. ambassador, 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. Aboutalebi insists his role was limited to translation and negotiation.

Obama frequently criticized President George W. Bush for such signing statements during his 2008 campaign. “Congress's job is to pass legislation," he said, as The Daily Beast recalled. "The president can veto it or he can sign it.” Apparently, he doesn’t believe what he says.

Last week, after hearing about the former hostages' anger over Aboutalebi, members of Congress jumped to pass legislation banning him, seeing the issue as a chance to look tough on Iran weeks after a new sanctions bill stalled in the Senate. Bills passed unanimously in both chambers this week in a rare show of partisanship.

“It is unconscionable that, in the name of international diplomatic protocol, the United States would be forced to host a foreign national who showed a brutal disregard for the status of our diplomats when they were stationed in his country,” Cruz said when he introduced the bill.

Iran has said it will not withdraw his name, and has asked the U.N. to investigate the U.S. visa denial.


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