Washington, DC, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Obama administration has criticized a “partisan” letter sent by Republican senators to the leaders of Iran regarding the country’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with the US and other Western powers.
US President Barack Obama and other White House officials on Monday accused the senators of seeking to derail efforts to reach an agreement with Iran as well as undermining the authority of the president of the United States.
The letter, signed by 47 Republican senators on Monday, warned Tehran that any deal reached with the Obama administration could later be revoked by Obama’s successor in the White House or the US Congress.
“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system,” the letter began.
It said any deal would also have to be approved by Congress in order to become active, and an agreement with Iran not approved by the house would be considered by the Senate as a mere “executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.”
“The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time,” it added.
Reacting to the letter as he spoke to the press ahead of his meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk in the Oval Office, Obama said he found it “ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran.”
“It’s an unusual coalition,” he added.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also slammed the letter, saying it was part of a “partisan strategy” by some Republicans “to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.”
In a statement on Monday, US Vice President Joe Biden said he was personally offended by the letter, which was “beneath the dignity” of the senate, and called it a move “expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations.”
“This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American president, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States,” he added.
“In 36 years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary—that the president does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.”
Biden also pointed out that several international agreements the US holds with other countries as well as past foreign policy shifts had all been conducted without Congressional approval.
Speaking on CNN on Monday, Republican senator Bill Cassidy, one of the signatories of the letter, said the White House’s reaction was overblown, and claimed the letter was merely “stating the facts” of the constitution.
“This is not undermining the president. It’s just saying that the deal better represent US interests as well as Iranians’, and there will be a review by the Senate. And so if it’s a great deal that will be a really good review, and if it’s a bad deal then frankly it’ll have considerations,” he said.
“I think if the American people felt better about the president’s foreign policy, perhaps we would not have sent the letter,” he added.
Republicans have been critical of efforts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran by the US and the other members of the UN Security Council as well as Germany—the group of nations commonly referred to as the P5+1.
The parties have been locked in lengthy negotiations for months to reach an agreement before a deadline at the end of this month. The US State Department said on Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry would be traveling to Switzerland on Sunday to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as part of the ongoing efforts to secure an agreement.
In a statement on Monday, Zarif dismissed the Republican letter as a “propaganda ploy” and said the warnings from Republicans had “no value” with respect to international law.
“The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states, and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations,” Zarif said in the statement.
“Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program . . . I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the ‘stroke of a pen,’ as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.”
If signed, a deal would see crippling international sanctions on the Islamic Republic removed in return for Iran agreeing to reduce its Uranium enrichment capacity to levels that would assure the Western powers it is not seeking to produce nuclear weapons.
But Republicans have been highly critical of the negotiations process. They warn that Iran has been employing underhand tactics during the negotiations and have cited what they believe are previous examples of Tehran masking its efforts from inspectors. They also fear Iran could, if it successfully produces a nuclear weapon, pose a serious threat to key US ally Israel.
Republicans also want stronger limits on Iran’s nuclear program and the dismantling of its entire infrastructure, which current negotiations suggest Iran could keep as part of an agreement, providing it scales back its Uranium production to acceptable levels.