Fox News on March 10, 2015, reported that a political firestorm has erupted after an open letter from Republican senators to Iran’s leaders challenged President Obama’s ability to strike a permanent nuclear deal with Tehran. Excerpts below:
The letter signed by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and 46 of his colleagues warned Tehran that any nuclear deal needs congressional approval in order to last beyond Obama’s term and pointed out that without that step, all Iran would be left with is a “mere executive agreement” between Obama and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The letter added, “We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.”
Obama himself compared the Senate Republicans to reactionary members of Iran’s government, saying “I think it’s somewhat ironic that some members of Congress want to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.”
Cotton defended the letter in an interview with ABC News, saying “It’s the job of the president to negotiate but it’s the job of Congress to approve … We’re simply trying to say that Congress has a constitutional role to approve any deal, to make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. Not today, not tomorrow, not ten years from now.
“We’re on the verge of a deal that could allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon in as little as ten years, so it’s important that Iran realize that Congress will not allow that outcome to happen,” the senator added.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said earlier Monday that “the rush to war, or at least the rush to the military option, that many Republicans are advocating is not at all in the best interest of the United States.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the White House’s objections to the letter “a tempest in a teapot.” Congress obviously will want a voice in any deal with Iran, McCain told reporters, suggesting the Democrats’ protests might be “a diversion from a lousy deal.”
The Obama administration believes it has authority to lift most trade, oil and financial sanctions that would be pertinent to the nuclear deal in exchange for an Iranian promise to limit its nuclear programs. For the rest, it needs Congress’ approval. And lawmakers could approve new Iran sanctions to complicate matters.
The U.S. is negotiating alongside Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia in an effort to reach agreement on the framework of a permanent agreement by the end of this month. Negotiations are due to resume next week in Switzerland. Officials say the parties have been speaking about a multi-step agreement that would freeze Iran’s uranium enrichment program for at least a decade before gradually lifting restrictions. Sanctions relief would similarly be phased in.