In a nearly unprecedented attempt to challenge presidential authority, 47 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iran saying any future agreement between the Unites States and Iran over its nuclear program would have a short life once President Barack Obama leaves the White House.
The move ignited a new fierce confrontation between the GOP and the president and the letter was instantly blasted by both Obama and his vice-president Joe Biden.
The letter, authored by Republican Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton – on his first term as an US senator – is a rather comprehensive lecture for Tehran about how constitutional frame works in America, because apparently Iran did not “fully understand our constitutional system”. It informs the country’s officials that, while the executive is allowed to negotiate international agreements, it is the role of Congress to ratify them.
It further goes deep into bureaucratic detail, describing how a so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, where a three-fifths majority of 100 Senators is needed. Without going through this stage, the letter claims, any settlement is a “mere executive agreements,” that can (and the letter strongly suggests it will) be revoked by a future president.
The President can only sign “mere executive agreements”
However, such “mere executive agreements” proved to be enough for the US foreign policy to come with solutions to some of the most tense diplomatic crisis throughout history, such as the Vietnam War, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis or the recognition granted to the People’s Republic of China, as Vice President Joe Biden points out.
Biden, a former US Senator for 36 years, said the letter is unseen in his career, stating that he “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 used strong language to blame on Monday the Republican senators for having no other purpose than to undermine President Barack Obama’s authority to reach closure with Iran and to promote an eventual setllement back in the US Congress. He disputed the technicalities specified in the later, arguing that both Republic and Democratic Presidents have negotiated milestone agreements in American foreign policy without GOP approval.
As Joe Biden and other foreign policy experts said to the media, Congressional involvement in the negotiation could force it to collapse, making a peaceful resolution with Iran hard to reach. It shows Republicans commitment to thwart Obama’s negotiations with Tehran and it has been going on for a while now. Recently the House Republican leadership invited Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress about Iran. As Republicans applauded, Netanyahu raised an issue about the White House attempts to settle with Iran, questioning whether such a path would prevent it from making nuclear weapons.
Republicans risk open confrontation with Iran, White House says
President Obama clashed with the senators on Monday, shortly after the letter was made public. He described their gesture as the same with taking part in an “unusual coalition” alongside those who want Iran to acquire nuclear capabilities. “It’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran,” the President stated.
Mr. Obama underlined no agreement with Iran is in place. After he ended his meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk he told the press that, when the case will be, “then we’ll be able to make the case to the American people, and I’m confident we’ll be able to implement it.”
The spokesman for the White House Josh Earnest labeled the Republican letter as a political tool, nothing else than “the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.” Earnest explained that the alternative to a nuclear deal is military intervention, blaming many Republican representatives for rushing to war with Iran.
The political firestorm was further incited by South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. Graham, a potential runner for the White House in 2016, thinks “There are no moderates running Iran,” while his Florida counterpart Marco Rubio said about the letter “he would send another one tomorrow.” Their views reflect some of the objections Obama met with in the Congress, and not only from Republicans. Some lawmakers are still discussing the possibility of increased sanctions on Iran to make her give up its nuclear ambitions.
The President told the news over the weekend that the following month will be decisive in determining if Iran can assume responsibility for a deal. The main obstacle is Tehran’s reluctance “to accept the kind of verification and constraints on their program that so far, at least, they have not been willing to say yes to,” Obama explained.
On Tuesday, the first reactions from Tehran began to appear in the press. Iran’s officials have reportedly not been impressed by the Congressional letter. The country’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, denounced it, claiming it had “no legal value” and seeing it as a mere “propaganda ploy.” Zarif fears that in his understanding the letter “implies that the United States is not trustworthy”, warning if the Congress revokes any future agreement Iran will take it as a violation of international law.
Barack Obama’s presidency will end on January 20th, 2007.
Image Source: NY Times
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