Republicans send letter to Iran warning that nuke deal can be revoked by Congress
There's a lot of wailing on the left this morning as news broke of a letter to Iran signed by 47 Republican senators that warns Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei that any deal regarding Iran's nuclear program won't last beyond the end of the Obama adminsitration unless it is approved by Congress.
Ths is a highly unusual occurrence and can be seen as an effort to torpedo the talks.
"We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei," the letter read.
"The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of an agreement at any time," it read.
The letter, first reported by Bloomberg News, followed a speech to a joint meeting of Congress last week by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned that the United States was negotiating a "bad deal" with Tehran.
It comes as world powers have been negotiating with Iran to try to reach some form of understanding by the end of March before a final deal in June that could ease crippling sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.
The U.S. Constitution divides foreign policy powers between the president and Congress. The executive branch is responsible for negotiating international agreements and lawmakers rarely intervene directly with the leaders of another nation while the president's administration is negotiating a pact.
Republicans want any U.S. nuclear agreement with Iran to be approved by Congress. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who signed the letter released on Monday, agreed to postpone a vote on a bill requiring Obama to submit any deal for congressional approval amid outcry from Democrats.
Along with McConnell, Republican signers include Tom Cotton, Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, John Thune and Mark Kirk. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, two possible 2016 presidential contenders, also signed.
The president has made it plain as day that he will not submit the agreement to Congress for approval. It's also plain as day that there are not 22 Republicans who would support a nuclear agreement with Iran, given what we know of the parameters of such an agreement. (Twenty-two Republicans would be needed for a two-thirds majority of the Senate – if all Democratic Senators were to support the treaty.) Since the agreement will not have any basis in legality, the GOP's letter is factually correct.
But should they have sent it?
It's by no means certain that Iran will bend enough so that even an administration desperate for a deal will receive the cover necessary to proclaim victory in the negotiations. The talks may blow up all by themselves without any help from the GOP. The deadline later this month is for an agreement on the framework of a treaty – not the treaty itself. That deadline comes in June – a long way to go to resolve several critical issues.
The problem for Republicans is that by sending the letter now, they risk being blamed if the talks blow up for any reason. And the left is preparing the battlespace to do just that.
By the way, seven GOP senators didn't sign the Cotton letter: Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Dan Coats, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, and Rob Portman. Still, 87% of the Senate GOP caucus signed this letter. It's stunning. And it's a rebuke on an international stage that doesn't really have a precedent. Imagine Democrats micro-managing the START talks in the 80s by sending an open letter to Gorbachev? It just wouldn't have been viewed as an acceptable political move while the talks were still happening.
We don't have to imagine it. It happened – not in the form of an open letter to Moscow, but rather a private, secret, backchannel communication between then Soviet Premiere Yuri Andropov and U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy.
In 1983, Kennedy confidant and close friend John Tunney visited Moscow and made an extraordinary – some would say treasonous – offer on behalf of his former college roomate to Andropov:
Kennedy’s message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. “The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations,” the memorandum stated. “These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign.”
Kennedy made Andropov a couple of specific offers.
First he offered to visit Moscow. “The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.” Kennedy would help the Soviets deal with Reagan by telling them how to brush up their propaganda.
Then he offered to make it possible for Andropov to sit down for a few interviews on American television. “A direct appeal … to the American people will, without a doubt, attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country. … If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interviews. … The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side.”
Kennedy would make certain the networks gave Andropov air time–and that they rigged the arrangement to look like honest journalism.
Kennedy’s motives? “Like other rational people,” the memorandum explained, “[Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations.” But that high-minded concern represented only one of Kennedy’s motives.
“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”
So much for "interference" in foreign policy by the Republican opposition being "unprecedented."
Iran has American experts in its government perfectly capable of informing the leadership of what's going on in Washington and the likelihood that any agreement reached will not be honored after Obama leaves office. In that sense, the GOP letter was unnecessary. But as a shot across the bow to the executive branch, letting Obama know his appeasement will be countered, it may prove invaluable in the end.