United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Part I: GOP Letter on Iran

On March 9, a group of 47 Republican senators warned Iran's leaders that a nuclear deal signed during President Barack Obama’s tenure could be revoked by the next president or modified by a future Congress. “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,” wrote the lawmakers in an open letter to Iran's leaders. All but seven Republican senators— Lamar Alexander (TN), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Dan Coats (IN), Jeff Flake (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Thad Cochran (MS)— signed the letter, organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton (AR, left). The full text is below, followed by statements from Republican senators who both signed and did not sign the letter.

An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
 
It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution—the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices—which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.
 
First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.  In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote.  A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate).  Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.
 
Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.  For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.
 
What these two constitutional provisions mean is that 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 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.
 
We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.
 
Sincerely,
 
Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT  
Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA       
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY      
Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL         
Senator John McCain, R-AZ 
Senator James Inhofe, R-OK           
Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS   
Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL  
Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY
Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID           
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC       
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX             
Senator Richard Burr, R-NC
Senator John Thune, R-SD  
Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA
Senator David Vitter, R-LA  
Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY     
Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS           
Senator Jim Risch, R-ID
Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL       
Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO     
Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
Senator Rob Portman, R-OH           
Senator John Boozman, R-AR          
Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA  
Senator John Hoeven, R-ND
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL  
Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI 
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Senator Mike Lee, R-UT       
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH 
Senator Dean Heller, R-NV  
Senator Tim Scott, R-SC       
Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX       
Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE  
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV         
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA    
Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO           
Senator James Lankford, R-OK       
Senator Steve Daines, R-MT
Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD
Senator David Perdue, R-GA           
Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC   
Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA       
Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE     
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK
 
Click here for a PDF version.
 
Republicans Who Signed the Letter
 
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)

"This [letter] is about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
 
"They are nothing but hardliners in Tehran...They've been killing Americans for 35 years."
March 10, 2015, according to the press
 
“We’re making sure that Iran’s leaders understand if Congress doesn’t approve a deal, Congress won’t accept a deal…Because we’re committing to stopping Iran from getting a weapon.”
March 10, 2015, according to the press
 
"The critical role of Congress in the adoption of international agreements was clearly laid out by our Founding Fathers in our Constitution. And it's a principle upon which Democrats and Republicans have largely agreed.
 
In fact, then-Sen. Joe Biden once reflected on this very topic, writing that "the president and the Senate are partners in the process by which the United States enters into, and adheres to, international obligations."
 
It's not often I agree with former senator and now Vice President Biden, but his words here are clear. The Senate must approve any deal President Obama negotiates with Iran by a two-thirds majority vote.
 
Anything less will not be considered a binding agreement when President Obama's term expires in two years. This is true of any agreement, but in particular with the nuclear deal President Obama intends to strike with Iran.
 
Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, the Obama administration has so far completely bypassed Congress in its negotiations with Iran.
 
The administration cares little about what will win congressional approval — only complete nuclear disarmament — and more about just reaching some sort of deal.
 
Regrettably, it appears the deal President Obama is negotiating with Iran will not be a good one. In fact, if reports are correct, it will be a bad one that will ultimately allow Iran to continue its nuclear program and ultimately develop a nuclear weapon.
 
That is why this week, I, along with 46 of my fellow senators, wrote Iranian leaders to inform them of the role Congress plays in approving their agreement. Our goal is simple: to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
 
I do not take my obligations as a senator lightly. Nor do those who are signatories to the letter. If the president won't share our role in the process with his negotiating partner, we won't hesitate to do it ourselves.
 
Our constituents elected us to the Senate, in part, to protect them from bad agreements like this and to help ensure their safety and security. And that is what we intend to do."
March 10, 2015, in an editorial
 
“[W]e wanted to be crystal clear that Iran's leaders got the message that, in our constitutional system, while the president negotiates deals, Congress has to approve them for them to be lasting and binding.
 
“Iran's leaders needed to hear the message loud and clear.
 
“I can tell you, they are not hearing that message from Geneva. In fact, if you look at the response of the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, it underscores the need for the letter in the first place, because he made it clear that he does not understand our constitutional system. He thinks that international law can override our Constitution.”
—March 15, 2015 in an interview with CBS News
 
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC)

“[Sen. Tom Cotton] came to me a couple of times, and I wasn’t going to sign the letter."
“I told him I don’t think I’m going to do that, because I’m negotiating with Democrats to get on the bill. So when the president just says, ‘I’ll veto that bill,’ in the middle of us putting it together? I said ‘enough is enough.’”
March 10, 2015, according to the press

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)

“What that letter did was tell the Iranians that whatever deal they make, the Congress of the United States will play a role.”
 
“Maybe that wasn’t the best way to do that, but I think the Iranians should know that the Congress of the United States has to play a role in whether an agreement of this magnitude.”
 
“It’s also symptomatic between the total lack of trust that exists now between we Republicans and the president."
 
“This has established a poisoned environment here which sometimes causes us to react maybe in not the most effective fashion.”
March 11, 2015, according to the press
 
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)

“In exchange for allowing Iran to maintain the capabilities to build nuclear weapons, the Administration promises to “comprehensively lift” as many as 14 Iran sanctions laws, many of which passed with bipartisan veto-proof majorities. There is no Constitutional authority granting a president unilateral power to repeal American law. Sanctions should not be weakened until Iran stops its nuclear weapons program, stops supporting and exporting terrorism, stops aggression against its neighbors, stops egregious human rights abuses, and stops threatening to annihilate Israel. A better deal, with bipartisan congressional backing, is the best insurance policy against a nuclear Iran, a destructive arms race, and war in the Middle East.”
March 10, 2015, according to the press

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK)

“On one of the most important national security issues in a generation, the idea that the president and Secretary Kerry will negotiation (sic) this deal with Iran alone -- with the largest state sponsor of terrorism -- flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution, the law, and four decades of arms control and civil nuclear agreement precedent.”
 
“Like those numerous previous agreements, whatever deal the president cuts with Iran has to be acceptable to the American people and voted on by their representatives in Congress.”

March 10, 2015, according to the press

Republicans Who Did Not Sign the Letter
 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN)

“I didn’t think it was going to further our efforts to get to a place where Congress would play the appropriate role that it should on Iran.”
 
“I did not think that the letter was something that was going to help get us to an outcome that we’re all seeking, and that is Congress playing that appropriate role.”
 
“I immediately knew that it was not something that, for me anyway, in my particular role, was going to be constructive…I didn’t realize until this weekend that it had the kind of momentum that it had.”
March 11, 2015, according to the press
 
“I knew it was going to be only Republicans on [the letter]. I just don’t view that as where I need to be today… “My goal is to get 67 or more people on something that will affect the outcome.”
March 9, 2015, according to the press
 
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)

There is already “a lot of animosity” between Congress and the White House and the Iranian nuclear threat is “too important to divide us among partisan lines.”
 
“I just didn’t feel that it was appropriate or productive at this point. These are tough enough negotiations as it stands, and introducing this kind of letter, I didn’t think would be helpful.”
March 9, 2015, according to the press
 
"I do think that we ought to support negotiations that are going on. I don't think that efforts like this help those negotiations, but I do think that Congress has a role to play and will have a role once this agreement - hopefully, if it is going to come forth - once it is signed."
 
"Those who signed it, I know that a lot of them are very opposed to the deal or what's been described as a deal. I don't think we know what the deal is really, but I don't want to describe it that way - I just don't think it was our role to do so."

"I'm more concerned not with how Iran receives it, but with how our allies receive it. These sanctions have been effective and Iran is at the table because these sanctions have been multilateral. It's been Iran versus the West rather than Iran versus the U.S., and I think it's extremely important to maintain that coalition."

"Republicans and Democrats realize that Congress has a role here. These sanctions were imposed by Congress, and only Congress can lift them permanently. So I think that's important and it's unfortunate if one party is, I think, signing any one letter here. This needs to be a bipartisan effort."
March 10, 2015, in an interview with NPR
 
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)

“It’s more appropriate for members of the Senate to give advice to the president, to Secretary Kerry and to the negotiators.”
 
“I don’t think that the ayatollah is going to be particularly convinced by a letter from members of the Senate, even one signed by a number of my distinguished and high ranking colleagues.”
March 9, 2015, according to the press

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)

“Senator Murkowski believes in congressional input on foreign affairs. As a co-sponsor of Chairman Corker's bill that would allow a 60-day evaluation of the final deal for Senate approval or disapproval, she did not see the need to also sign the Cotton letter.”
March 10, 2015, in a statement by Murkowski spokesman Matthew Felling
 

Senator Dan Coats (R-IN)

 
“The reason I did not sign the open letter to Iran is not because I disagreed with the goals of the letter. All Senate Republicans, and I believe many Senate Democrats, are in agreement on the overall objective of avoiding a bad deal with Iran. But the strategy we need to accomplish this essential goal is now in question, and we are divided in a way that makes this goal harder to achieve.
 
“Any agreement that contains a sunset clause must be rejected and any agreement with Iran that does not impose permanent restraints on their nuclear ambitions is no agreement at all. We in the Senate have it within our ability and mandate to guarantee that happens. But to do so, we need to reach consensus across the aisle and work together as Republicans and Democrats, for the future security of our nation, and for that matter, all nations.”
—March 16, 2015 in a floor statement
 

Part II: Iran Responds to GOP Letter

The following are responses by Iranian officials on the GOP letter to Iran’s leadership.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

The letter is "the collapse of political ethics and the U.S. system's internal disintegration."

"American senators officially announced the commitment will be null and void after this government leaves office. Isn't this the ultimate degree of the collapse of political ethics and the U.S. system's internal disintegration?"
 
"The tone of the other party, particularly the Americans, becomes harsher, harder and more violent. This is part of their tricks and deceits."
March 12, 2015, according to the press
 
"Of course I am worried, because the other side is known for opacity, deceit and backstabbing."
—March 12, 2015, according to the press

 

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif

Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy.  It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.  This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.”
 
Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.
 
Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic 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.” 
 
The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “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.” He continued “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.” He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 [Britain, China, France, Germany Russia and the United States] result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.
 
Zarif expressed the hope that his comments “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not ‘modify the terms of the agreement at any time’ as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.”
 
The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.  He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such ‘mere executive agreements’ that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.”
 
Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”
 
Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to UN - New York
March 9, in a press release from Iran's U.N. mission 
 
“This kind of letter is unprecedented and undiplomatic. In truth, it told us that we cannot trust the United States.
 
“Negotiations with the United States are facing problems due to the presence of extremists in Congress."
—March 10, 2015 in a meeting with top clerics

Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani
 
“Parliament and the government are following the same path.”
 
“We are together and there is coordination and consultation between government and the parliament... and all are under the supervision of the leader.”
 
“What the U.S. Congress did was really amateurish. Even their political experts denounced them because they undermined their own integrity. We are not going to copy their mistake.”
 
“The possible nuclear agreement would not face any problem in Iran in this regard [referring to the open letter by 47 U.S. lawmakers saying a deal might not last beyond President Obama’s tenure], Tehran does not have problems like those of the U.S.”
—March 16, 2015 in a press conference
 
Photo credit: Zarif by Robin Wright; Khamenei.ir via Facebook
 

 

Part III: White House and Democrats Respond to GOP Letter

The following are responses by President Obama, administration officials and Democrats on the GOP letter to Iran’s leadership.

President Barack Obama
 
“I’m embarrassed for them. For them to address a letter to the ayatollah... who they claim is our mortal enemy, and their basic argument to them is, 'Don’t deal with our president because you can’t trust him to follow through on an agreement.' That’s close to unprecedented.”
—March 2015 in an interview with VICE News
 
“I think it's somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran.  It's an unusual coalition.  I think what we’re going to focus on right now is actually seeing whether we can get a deal or not.  And once we do -- if we do -- then we’ll be able to make the case to the American people, and I'm confident we’ll be able to implement it.”
—March 9, 2015 in remarks to the press 
 
 
Vice President Joe Biden
 
I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere. 
 
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. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.
 
Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go. 
 
Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval. 
 
In thirty-six 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. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.
 
The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.   
 
There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran's leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States. 
 
The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL. 
 
The President has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.
—March 9, 2015 in a statement
 
Press Secretary Josh Earnest
 
I would describe this letter as the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy and advance our national security interests around the globe.
 
The fact is the effort that is currently underway by the United States alongside our international partners seeks significant commitments from the Iranian government to curtail their nuclear program and make clear to the international community that their nuclear program exists exclusively for peaceful means.  And the international community, and certainly the President, is not prepared to take Iran’s word for it.  We're going to insist that the Iranians agree to intrusive inspection measures that will resolve the broader international community’s concerns.  And as the National Security Advisor put it, the approach of the international community is to distrust and verify that Iran’s is prepared to live up to the agreement. 
 
And the fact is we have heard Republicans now, for quite some time, including the principal author of this letter, make clear that their goal was to undermine these negotiations.  And, again, that is not something -- that is not a position I am ascribing to Senator Cotton.  That is a position that he has strongly advocated.  He described it as a feature of his strategy, not a bug. 
 
And the fact is that the President is trying to explore this diplomatic option with Iran alongside our international partners because it is in the best interests of the United States, for two reasons.  The first is the best way for us to resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program is to get Iran’s own commitment to not develop a nuclear weapon and to verify that for the broader international community.  And 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 interests of the United States.
 
Question:  Could this have the effect of advancing their goal of trying to thwart these talks?  Does it make it harder to reach a deal?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it certainly interferes in that effort. The fact that there are ongoing negotiations with the United States, our P5-plus-1 partners that include our stalwart allies like Germany and France and the UK, but also include our partners like Russia and China, who are cooperating with us in this effort -- that to essentially throw sand in the gears here is not helpful and is not, frankly, the role that our Founding Fathers envisioned for Congress to play when it comes to foreign policy.
 
Question: Why shouldn’t a deal be considered a treaty that Congress should be able to weigh in on?
 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Nedra, this is a useful discussion that what we are seeking from Iran are a whole set of commitments from them that are related to commitments to rein in the aspirations of their nuclear program and to submit -- commit to comply with an intrusive set of inspections to verify their compliance with the agreement.  What we are seeking, we're seeking commitments from the Iranian government.
 
This is not that different than the kind of commitments that we seek from other countries when we establish basing agreements with them.  So, currently, there are U.S. military personnel that are serving in places like Korea and Japan.  We have commitments from the Japanese government and the Korean government, for example, about what sort of rules and regulations will govern the U.S. military presence there.  That's an important agreement that has a substantial impact on the ability of our men and women in uniform to do their jobs and to do their jobs safely, but that is not an agreement that is subjected to congressional approval.   Those are specific commitments that, in that situation, Korea and Japan have made.
 
There are other examples.  The agreement that was put in place to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program was the United States and Russia working with Syria to get Syria to make some specific commitments about dismantling their chemical weapons program.  That is not an agreement that required congressional participation or approval, but it was a tangible set of commitments that were made by the Syrian government.  And the United States and Russia and a number of other countries in the international community worked with us to succeed in that effort.
 
Let me give you one other example.  There are also a variety of other multilateral agreements that relate to nonproliferation. So there are some direct similarities between this agreement that P5-plus-1 is currently negotiating with Iran and other agreements that ensure or prevent the proliferation of weapons, and in some cases, nuclear weapons.  The best example of this is that there is a multilateral agreement that is related to interdicting weapons in international waters, and we worked closely with the international community to prevent the shipment of illicit weapons shipments through international waters.  And we work with other countries to enforce those agreements and to secure commitments from other countries that they’re going to help us fight those efforts.
 
Again, that is a multilateral agreement that has significant consequences for American national security that doesn’t require congressional approval.  And this is the way that our Founding Fathers envisioned, that the executive branch would be responsible for protecting the foreign policy interests of the United States.
—March 9, 2015 in a press briefing
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
“[T]his letter was absolutely calculated directly to interfere with these negotiations. It specifically inserts itself directly to the leader of another country, saying, don't negotiate with these guys because we're going to change this, which, by the way, is not only contrary to the Constitution with respect to the executive's right to negotiate, but it is incorrect, because they cannot change an executive agreement. So, it's false information and directly calculated to interfere, and basically say, don't negotiate with them. You have got to negotiate with 535 members of Congress. That is unprecedented, unprecedented.
 
“And, by the way, that is to say that before there even is a deal. I mean, it's like, you know, giving people a grade on a test before the test is even written, let alone given.
 
“It's wrong. It's unprecedented. And I hope it hasn't made it very difficult here. And, by the way, we're not -- this is not just the United States of America negotiating. This is China, Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain.
 
“I'm not going to apologize for the -- for an unconstitutional and unthought- out action by somebody who has been United States Senate for 60-some days.”
—March 15, 2015 in an interview with CBS News
 
“This letter ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.”
 
“This risks undermining the confidence that foreign governments in thousands of important agreements commit to with the United States.”
 
Senators have the right to voice dissent, but doing so in a letter to foreign leaders was “quite stunning.”
 
“It’s incorrect when it says that Congress could actually modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
 
“They don’t have the right to modify an agreement reached, executive to executive, between the leaders of two countries.”
—March 11, 2015, in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing
 
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
 
“This is a brazen attempt by Senate Republicans to sabotage negotiations aimed at preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. This bizarre, inappropriate letter is a desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement and the chance for a peaceful resolution, which is in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world.”
—March 9, 2015 in a statement
 
Senator Harry Reid (D-NV)
 
“The judgment of my Republican colleagues seems to be clouded by their abhorrence of President Obama. The Republican senators sent a letter to the Iranian leadership aimed at sabotaging these negotiations.
 
“It’s unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president.”
—March 9, 2015 in a speech
 
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
 
“I am appalled at the latest step of 47 Republicans to blow up a major effort by our country and the world powers to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program.
“This is a highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs and is not befitting this chamber. This letter only serves one purpose—to destroy an ongoing negotiation to reach a diplomatic agreement in its closing days.”
March 9, 2015 in a statement
 
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
 
“This is a cynical effort by Republican Senators to undermine sensitive international negotiations—it weakens America’s hand and highlights our political divisions to the rest of the world. Understand that if these negotiations fail, a military response to Iran developing their nuclear capability becomes more likely. These Republican Senators should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East.”
—March 9, 2015 in a statement
 
Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA)
 
"Yesterday we all awoke to the news that there had been a partisan letter signed by 47 Senators--47 of my colleagues, many of whom I work with very closely--not to the President saying 'We have concerns about a deal, and we are going to weigh in' but instead to the leader of a nation that we characterize as a terrorist state. This letter presumed to instruct the nation about what Congress might or might not do. The letter was widely viewed as an effort to undercut or dilute diplomatic negotiations that are in the best tradition of our country, the notion of diplomacy.
 
"With respect to the Iranian nuclear negotiation, I share many of the concerns of my 47 colleagues who wrote the letter. I share many of the concerns of the Prime Minister that were shared in his speech last week. But I deeply believe we should not try to tank a deal, critique a deal, or undercut a deal before there is a deal because to the extent there are efforts to stand and say this is a bad deal before there is a deal, the message that is communicated to the American public and to the world is: We will never accept any deal. We are not interested in diplomacy. We are not interested in negotiation.
 
That attitude plays directly into the hands of the nation of Iran, which is currently engaging in terrorist activity. They want to be able to blame the absence of any deal on an intransigent United States that is unwilling to negotiate in good faith.
 
We should not tank a deal before there is a deal. Instead, why don't we do what we are supposed to do as the greatest deliberative body in the world? Why don't we allow negotiators who have been working in the best traditions of American diplomacy to see if they can find a deal and then put it on the table for the review of Congress, as has always been contemplated?
 
I am a proud original cosponsor and worked on the draftsmanship of a bipartisan bill that was introduced under the key sponsorship of Foreign Relations chair Senator Corker and ranking member Senator Menendez to guarantee to Congress an appropriate review of any final deal with Iran over their nuclear program if such a deal was reached. This is a bill which is rigorously bipartisan--not partisan, not political, not rushed, not accelerated, but rigorously bipartisan. It respects the ongoing process by allowing the negotiators to do their work and see if they can find an outcome. It guarantees Congress a debate and vote if a deal includes relief under the congressional sanctions Congress has enacted over the years. It is appropriately deferential to the Executive, allowing the Executive the flexibility to do sanctions relief under Executive or international sanctions that have not been part of any congressional statute.
 
This is a bipartisan bill which provides some assurance to allies. Our allies in the region--allies that are most affected by the Iranian nuclear ambitions are not part of the P5+1, whether you are talking about Israel or Gulf State nations or Jordan. The nations most affected by Iranian nuclear ambitions are not part of the P5+1, and the Corker-Menendez bill would give them some comfort that a deal, if announced, would receive some careful scrutiny in this body.
 
Finally, I believe the Corker-Menendez bipartisan approach even provides some important assurances to Iran in the negotiation. We want Iran to make not small concessions, we want them to make big and bold concessions and give up any intent to develop nuclear weapons. But what is the likelihood that Iran will make those concessions if they have no knowledge about what Congress's intent is vis-á-vis the congressional statutory provisions?
 
There is a right way and a wrong way to approach these matters. To rush it, to label a deal as a bad deal before there is a deal, to make it entirely partisan rather than bipartisan, reflecting the will of the body, is an effort to undercut negotiations that weakens our President, weakens our country, and weakens our credibility; whereas if we proceed in a bipartisan way, we can make the deal stronger."
—March 10, 2015 in a floor statement
 
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)
 
"When 47 Republican Senators signed a letter sent to the Ayatollah Khomeini, it was a letter that although supposedly instructive of the constitutional provisions of the separation of government in the United States, in effect, it was a letter to erode the negotiating position of the President of the United States and his administration in trying to reach an agreement to not have a nuclear weapon capability of building a bomb in Iran.
 
I think history will show the strength of American foreign policy has always been bipartisanship when it comes to the interests of America as we look out and have to defend ourselves against our enemies. Indeed, Iran with a nuclear bomb would be one of the gravest threats to our national security as well as to our allies. It saddens me that we have come to the point where we are so divided that nearly half of the Senators, on a partisan basis, in this great institution of the U.S. Senate, would in effect try to cut the legs from underneath the President and his administration in trying to reach an agreement to avert a nuclear bomb.
 
So much has been said about this issue, but one common theme runs throughout, and it is that people seem to know what the agreement is as it is being negotiated in secret. This Senator will reserve judgment. This Senator is also an original cosponsor of the bill we filed to have Congress weigh in on any future lifting of economic sanctions that have been imposed by the Congress, and this Senator feels that is an appropriate role, under the separation of powers, of our job as Congress. But when we see a major part, on a partisan basis, of our government try to undercut and kill the negotiations while they are going on at this very moment in Geneva, then that goes a step too far.
 
I am saddened. I think about what this Senator would have done when the President was not Barack Obama but George Bush. I cannot imagine that I would have tried to undercut the President of the United States representing this country and trying, on matters of war and peace, to keep peace. We can disagree about the specifics, but we still have to honor the institution of the Presidency, and when it becomes matters of war and peace, then we have to unify. That is why I am so saddened that we have come to the point at which we appear to be so divided."
—March 10, 2015 in a floor statement
 
Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD)
 
“It [the letter] certainly was not helpful.”
 
“Oh yeah, we’ll support it [legislation calling for Congressional weigh in on a deal]. I support congressional review. I think congressional review makes sense.”
—March 10, 2015 according to The New York Times
 
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
 
"It is shocking, dangerous, and deeply troubling to me that 47 Members of this body decided to throw away 70 years of wisdom to stand on the side of the Ayatollahs and the most extreme voices in Iran.
 
When President Bush decided to invade Iraq, I voted no. I voted against his policies. I spoke out publicly about my concerns about that war, but I never would have sent a letter to Saddam Hussein undermining the President before that war happened.

 

The chairs of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the chairs of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at that time all opposed President Bush's invasion of Iraq, but none of them penned a letter to Saddam Hussein."
—March 10, 2015 in a statement

 
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
 
Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT)
 
"This isn't a case of who can score political points for the evening news broadcast. We are talking about potentially the lives of millions of people. We are talking about the possibility of a cataclysmic mistake that could create havoc long after any of us has left this body. I have had the honor of representing Vermont in the Senate beginning at the time when Gerald Ford was President.
 
We have had Presidents I have agreed with--in fact, with every President there have been things I agreed with and with every President, Democratic or Republican, there have been things I have disagreed with. But one thing I have always done when there are such negotiations going on, I am willing to talk to the President privately, but I am not going to state my position, for or against, publicly. We can only have one person negotiating for the United States. Can you imagine if everybody who wanted to rush to the cable news shows to get on TV were to say, well, here is our negotiating position--and we are going to force the President to leave the negotiating table? What do you think those countries that joined us in imposing multilateral sanctions would do?
 
Many of those countries that joined us are doing so at great economic cost to themselves, but they responded--when President Obama went to each of them and asked: Will you join us in imposing sanctions, they agreed. That made the sanctions far more effective. If they think we are not serious, they are going to be very tempted to ask: Why should we join you in supporting sanctions in the future? If the United States were alone in supporting sanctions, no matter what those sanctions are, it would not create any real pressure on Iran.
 
Have we not made enough mistakes in the Middle East? I remember some who said we must go to war in Iraq because it would protect Israel or because they had nuclear weapons or because they had weapons of mass destruction. None of that was true. None of it. I remember people stopping me on the street, angry that I voted against the war in Iraq. They said: We heard Vice President Cheney say they have nuclear weapons. I said: There are none."
—March 10, 2015 in a statement
 
Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)
 
“It [the letter] sure hasn't helped a thing. It hasn't helped one thing, except drive us further apart.
 
“The country is divided enough. We need to start bringing us together. And for, like you said, over 200 years, we have operated under a process that basically we have had the executive branch, the State Department, the executive branch working and speaking as one, but speaking through and with us being able to have input from the legislative branch.
“I believe that has worked very well. I believe it still can. But we could second-guess all day long and get nothing accomplished.”
—March 15, 2015 in an interview with CBS News
 
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)*
 
“It appears that for most of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq were not enough. They now apparently want a war in Iran as well. President Obama is working with the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China to try to negotiate a peaceful means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. These negotiations must be allowed to continue and, hopefully, will succeed. It is an outrage that my Republican colleagues are trying to sabotage that effort. ”
—March 9, 2015 in a statement
 
*Sanders caucuses with the Democrats
 
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)
 
“The Republican Senators who organized and signed this letter have undermined the security and stability of our nation in their reckless attempt to weaken President Obama personally. In reality, however, they have undermined not one administration, but the Office of the President itself and with it, our nation as a whole. That is something that every American, regardless of how they feel about the ongoing negotiations with Iran, should staunchly oppose.
 
“If these Republican Senators disagree with the ongoing talks between the U.S. and Iran, they are free to pass a law overturning the final deal, which the President can veto. What Congress must not do—and indeed must never do--is attempt to speak to foreign nations in place of the President. We should instead afford President Obama the opportunity to complete these delicate, multilateral talks. Our nation’s power and security depend on it."
—March 16, 2015 in a statement
 
 

Part IV: Media Roundup on GOP Letter

The following is a snapshot of editorials from U.S. newspapers and media outlets on the GOP letter to Iran’s leaders.
 
The Washington Post
 
 
Congressional Republicans are trying to obstruct President Obama from concluding a nuclear agreement with Iran, but the only tangible result of their efforts has been to impede serious debate about the legitimate issues arising from the potential deal. The latest GOP gambit, an open letter to Iran’s leaders disparaging any accord not approved by Congress, prompted predictable blasts of rhetoric from the White House, the Senate caucuses and even the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, but not a word of discussion about what the Republicans say worries them: whether the terms being offered to Iran by the Obama administration are in the United States’ interest.
Republicans had an opportunity to focus attention on weaknesses in the emerging accord with Iran and mobilize bipartisan pressure on the administration to demand better terms. Instead they have engaged in grandstanding tactics that have alienated potential supporters while obscuring critical issues. Their antics are making it easier rather than harder for Mr. Obama to proceed unilaterally.
 
The Wall Street Journal
 
 
President Obama's looming nuclear deal with Iran may be the security blunder of the young century, and Congress should vote on it. Which is why it's too bad that Republican Senators took their eye off that ball on Monday with a letter to the government of Iran.
The problem with the GOP letter is that it's a distraction from what should be the main political goal of persuading the American people. Democratic votes will be needed if the pact is going to be stopped, and even to get the 67 votes to override a veto of the Corker-Menendez bill to require such a vote. Monday's letter lets Mr. Obama change the subject to charge that Republicans are playing politics as he tries to make it harder for Democrats to vote for Corker-Menendez.

The New York Times
 
 
The letter was an attempt to scare the Iranians from making a deal that would limit their nuclear program for at least a decade by issuing a warning that the next president could simply reverse any agreement. It was a blatant, dangerous effort to undercut the president on a grave national security issue by communicating directly with a foreign government.
The best and only practical way to restrain Iran from developing a bomb is through negotiating a strict agreement with tough monitoring. In rejecting diplomacy, the Republicans make an Iranian bomb and military conflict more likely.
 
Los Angeles Times
 
 
[W]hat is most objectionable about the senators' letter is neither its condescending tone nor its legal analysis. It's the fact that the letter injects the senators into ongoing international negotiations that are properly the prerogative of the executive branch — with the obvious intention of subverting those negotiations. Not only does this intervention put the senators on the same side as Iranian hard-liners who are opposed to a deal — a point made Monday by Obama — but it will make it easier for Iran to blame the U.S. if the talks fail to produce an agreement.
 
The Boston Globe
 
“GOP letter to Iran is a reckless intrusion into nuclear talks”
 
Winning sympathy for the renegade Islamic Republic of Iran is no easy trick. But Republicans in the US Senate seem to be accomplishing it with their breathtakingly reckless intrusion into international diplomacy.
 
Under the guise of an American civics lesson pointedly but also pointlessly aimed at Iran’s already isolated, mistrustful, hostile-to-the-United States leadership, Senate Republicans may sabotage highly delicate negotiations to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear development program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
  
The letter not only undercuts the president’s traditional authority to oversee the shaping of foreign policy but badly undermines America’s credibility in the international community. It speaks to the toxic levels of partisanship in Washington that not a single Senate Democrat was willing to sign the poison pen letter, although more than a few are skeptical of Iran’s long-term intentions and are fearful of what it might portend for Israel — Iran’s blood enemy.
 
USA Today
 
“'Dear Iran' letter subverts nuclear talks”
 
It's not every day that you see U.S. senators pressing leaders of a hostile power to help them kill off American-led negotiations aimed at removing a potential nuclear threat to the United States and its allies.
 
In fact, nothing quite like that had ever happened until Monday, when 47 Republican senators wrote a letter to the leaders of Iran warning that any agreement they reach with President Obama to curtail Iran's nuclear weapons program might be reversed by a future president.
..
At a minimum, the senators have given Iran a way to reject the deal and escape blame.
 
This is neither a small nor improbable thing.
 
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has been under pressure from hard-line factions to walk away. Like the senators, he could see the deal as a bad one, requiring inspections that he considers to be too intrusive or lifting sanctions too slowly for his liking.
 
Miami Herald
 
 
The open letter to Iran by 47 Republican senators questioning the value of any agreement to freeze its nuclear program is another troubling break with precedent that threatens to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy.
 
The letter is little more than a mischievous attempt to throw a monkey wrench into a years-long, multinational effort to obtain a secure, verifiable agreement with Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons program through diplomacy, rather than war. It’s hard to see how Republicans can reject a deal when they know little more than the outline of the proposal that is still being worked out, especially since they have no reasonable alternative to offer.
 
The Star-Ledger (New Jersey)
 
 
The amateurish missive succeeded in doing little but giving the hardliners in Tehran hope that the negotiations will crumble, as their chief argument is that the United States cannot be trusted.
If the U.S. causes negotiations to fail -- because their war profiteers and their Congressional enablers undermine the president's diplomatic authority -- the UN Security Council breaks ranks, lifts sanctions, and Cotton earns his place in infamy.
 
It's up to Congress whether it prefers war and political posturing to a verifiable agreement. The wrong decision could ostracize the U.S., create another nuclear player in the Middle East, and throw the world into further turmoil.
 
San Francisco Chronicle
 
 
Washington’s unrelenting partisanship is hitting an all-time low. Senate Republicans are brazenly undermining White House talks with Iran over nuclear weapons by warning Tehran that any deal won’t stick with the next president.
 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
 
The letter sent Monday by 47 Republican senators to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warning him not to sign an agreement with major nations limiting his country’s nuclear program, was damaging to America’s role in the world.
America’s partners in the talks are among the world’s most important nations — China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. They can only be appalled at seeing Secretary of State John Kerry and the president, who are charged with making the nation’s foreign policy, hit from behind by one house of the federal legislature.
 
The senators who signed the letter should be ashamed.
 
Albany Times Union
 
 
Other than Iran's unlikely capitulation, the Republicans — as usual in disagreements with President Barack Obama — offer no alternative, other than perhaps an unstated desire for war.
 
The Republicans who signed this foolish letter should listen to their own members who chose not to participate in this partisan attack on a sitting president. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it would be appropriate for senators to give advice to the president and Secretary Kerry instead of going directly to Tehran.
 
Rather than listening to their reasonable colleagues, the Republicans who signed this letter are merely continuing to try to undermine President Obama at every turn. Their actions risk undoing years of high-stakes negotiations and threaten the stability of the Mideast, all for the sake of scoring some partisan political points.
 
Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
 
The decision by 47 Republican senators to sign a patronizing open letter to the leaders of Iran seeking to instruct them on how the U.S. constitutional system works -- and, by the way, to upend talks closing in on a nuclear weapons deal -- is as depressingly partisan as it is shortsighted.
It is in the United States' interest to negotiate the toughest possible deal that can put the brakes on Iran's drive for nuclear weapons with full, intrusive inspections and controls on its near-weapons-grade fuel stocks.
 
That aim is undercut by the March 9 letter basically telling the ayatollahs not to bother to negotiate.
 
The Courier Journal (Kentucky)
 
 
Has Congress gone crazy?
 
That’s what many U.S. observers and much of the world must be wondering after a group of rogue Republican senators opted to communicate directly by letter with “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” seeking to undercut President Barack Obama’s ongoing negotiations with Iran over nuclear enrichment.

Whatever the outcome of negotiations with Iran, the 47 senators have done immeasurable harm to their image and U.S. credibility in world affairs. It is regrettable that Kentucky’s two senators were among them.

Salt Lake Tribune
 
It will be up to history to judge whether the latest partisan stunt joined by Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch amounts to an act of End Times warmongering or merely another bit of cringe-worthy buffoonery on the global stage.
 
Chances are that the foolish, dangerous and arguably felonious attempt by the Obama Derangement Caucus of the Senate will soon be forgotten. Unless, as President Obama himself muttered the other day, the Senate Republicans make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran to push the region, and the world, that much closer to nuclear war.

A nuclear-armed Iran is very much a thing to be avoided if at all possible. But, so far, the talks the Senate Republicans seem determined to undermine are the best hope of avoiding such a situation. Or at least pushing it back toward a not-so-distant day when the religious supreme leadership of that nation has left the stage and is succeeded by a more representative, and less confrontational, regime.
 
By seeking to undermine not only these negotiations, but also the political authority of this and all future presidents to conduct America's foreign policy, the senators seem determined to build tensions in the Middle East, endanger Israel and greatly increase the chances that the United States will wind up taking military action against Iran.
 
The Arizona Central Republic
 
 
The Republicans said they sent the letter because they consider the deal with Iran to be insufficient, unworkable and a mortal threat to the stability of the Middle East generally and a vital U.S. ally, Israel, in particular.
 
While their concerns may be valid, it is no business of senators to interfere with the negotiations of the elected official with the authority to barter with Iran, the president.
If President Obama has demonstrated a disdain for his constitutional authority, the 47 GOP senators have just joined him in a bipartisan display of contempt for our governing document. Their actions may fall short of the "traitorous" declamations of Democrats, but "irresponsible" would certainly apply.
 
Concord Monitor
 
 
[T]he letter may not have any effect on negotiations with Iran, a nation that understands the game as well as anybody. As columnist Robert Azzi wrote in the Sunday Monitor this past weekend, Iranian leaders’ “over-the-top rhetoric” is “designed primarily for home consumption to keep the fanatical Revolutionary Guard at bay.” The Republican senators’ letter serves the same purpose here in the United States. They are catering to their anti-Obama base and are willing to do real long-term damage to the office of the presidency if it means briefly wounding Obama and Democrats politically.
 
Baltimore Sun
 
“The GOP's poison pen note”
 
Congress has a long history of criticizing the White House's handling of foreign policy, but the letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran's leaders this week was virtually unprecedented. Signed by all but seven Senate Republicans, it bluntly warned Tehran that any deal made with the U.S. over Iran's disputed nuclear program won't be worth the paper it's printed on. The poison pen note was a shocking example of just how far President Barack Obama's GOP critics in Congress are willing to go in an effort to undercut his foreign policy goals.
The GOP senators might just as well have put up a big sign over their chamber warning the mullahs in Tehran to prepare for war because that's the practical import of rejecting any possibility of a negotiated resolution of the two countries' differences.
 
Newsday
 
 
Did Republican senators really think Iranian leaders needed a primer on how the U.S. government works? The open letter they sent to the leaders of Iran Monday was an unnecessary partisan stunt that detracts from what matters most.
 
That is, any deal with Iran must include a requirement for unannounced inspections of its nuclear facilities. Verification must be pervasive and intrusive enough to give the world confidence that if Iran cheats, it will be caught before it can produce a bomb.
The risk, however, is sabotaging the multination negotiations and leaving Iran unrestrained in building nuclear weapons. That's a bad path that could lead to use of military force to stop Iran's pursuit of a bomb.
 
Detroit Free Press
 
 
America looks weakest when its internal arguments spill over into its international diplomacy — something that has been rare in the nation's history.
 
That it is happening now is a blot on the 114th U.S. Senate; specifically, on the 47 Republican senators who signed an open letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran, a missive whose sole purpose is to end President Barack Obama's ongoing nuclear negotiations with that country.
But the Republicans who dispatched this letter have done more than embarrass a president they dislike. They have also disgraced themselves and undermined the credibility of the nation whose constitution they took an oath to uphold.
 
The News and Observer (North Carolina)
 
“Burr, Tillis add their names to outrageous letter to Iran”
 
This is one of the most horrid and tangible examples of pure partisanship run amok in modern times. So much do Republicans resent the fact that President Obama has won two terms they’ll now resort to blowing up a negotiation aimed at preventing war in the Middle East. This, despite the fact that since the presidency of George Washington, America has always tried to present a united front to the world. Time and again, Congress has stood behind presidents in war and in peace in the name of national unity.

But if the president, Secretary of State John Kerry and American allies are able to negotiate, for example, a 10-year hold on nuclear development, the Iran of 2025 may be much different than the Iran of today. Isn’t trying diplomacy better than a war into which United States forces most certainly would be drawn?
 
Sacramento Bee (California)
 
 
It’s one thing for Republicans in Congress to invite an ally to criticize a potential nuclear deal with Iran, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did last week.
 
But it’s beyond the pale to write to the leaders of a potential enemy to sabotage the negotiations, as 47 GOP senators did Monday.
Seven Republican senators had the good sense not to sign on. “I don’t think that the ayatollah is going to be particularly convinced by a letter from members of the Senate, even one signed by a number of my distinguished and high-ranking colleagues,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
 
Iranian officials said as much. So if the ayatollah is going to ignore the letter and the president is brushing it off, what was the point again?
 
The Denver Post
 
 
Do you get the feeling that Republican members of Congress really, really don't like the deal the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran?
 
First there was the rapturous reception for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who denounced the possible deal. And now 47 GOP senators — including Colorado's Cory Gardner — have sent a letter to Iran instructing the regime that a purely "executive agreement" could be revoked by the next president. As if the Iranians wouldn't already know that.

The reality is that if the agreement actually serves America's interest, even a Republican president would be unlikely to revoke it in 2017, given the race for a nuclear bomb that would likely follow.
 
Kansas City Star  
 
 
Yael T. Abouhalkah (Editorial page columnist)
 
The three GOP U.S. senators representing Kansas and Missouri signed on to a letter that undermined President Barack Obama’s ability to work out a nuclear deal with Iran.
 
Some detractors are labeling as traitorous Monday’s actions by Pat Roberts, Jerry Moran, Roy Blunt and 44 other Republicans.
 
The critics offer a plausible reason for being so upset: The letter was a near-unprecedented attempt by one party to meddle in the foreign diplomatic affairs of the United States, as presented by the president.
 

Given the Republicans’ pure hatred of Obama, it also seemed extra personal, yet another politically motivated attempt to stop him from doing anything that might be perceived as a victory for his administration.

The Tennessean

 
The new Senate leadership has decided that instead of allowing experienced professional diplomats to try to negotiate a nuclear disarmament deal with America’s longtime enemy Iran, it should let a freshman senator lead an amateurish and unprecedented effort to undermine U.S. foreign policy.
As much as our diplomats study Iran’s laws and culture, it might be safe to say that their diplomats do the same to us. So, the civics lesson on balance and separation of powers really was useless. What is confounding and should unnerve Americans is that these senators would try to embarrass their president in the face of a mutual enemy — and put our citizens’ national security at risk.
The Anniston Star
 
 
We are struck by your letter that condescendingly attempts to lecture Iran’s leadership on the fine points of the U.S. Constitution while at the same time blatantly trampled on the constitutionally defined roles in foreign affairs of presidents and members of Congress. In short, the chief executive negotiates and the Senate ratifies, or not, as the case may be.
 
Yet, your letter is a clear attempt to preemptively wreck the president’s attempts at a settlement to put Iran’s nuclear ambitions in check. And this provocative letter is well beyond the protocol for how the U.S. government negotiates international treaties.
 
The Republican (Massachusetts)
 
 
Before Democrats and their left-leaning allies across the land get even more riled up about a letter sent to Iranian leaders by 47 Senate Republicans, they may wish to take a moment to recall a time when members of their own party did much the same to a Republican president. Oh, no, wait a minute – that didn't happen.
Just seven of 54 GOP senators had the good sense not to sign the letter. The others acted rashly and allowed their passions to rule the day. They imprudently and shamefully put politics above our national interest, damaging our standing. Our nation will recover, but it shouldn't have to.
 
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
 
 
We're not saying Cotton can't have his own opinions about what to do in Iraq. The letter, however, was designed to interfere and disrupt, or to shock and awe, if you will, a nation Cotton views as an enemy that should only be dealt with as an enemy. Iran isn't any friend of the United States, but engaging in talks to work out a possible deal is a better approach than pushing for a showdown. Cotton is a little too eager to draw a line in the sand.
 
The Commerical Appeal – Memphis
 
 
The letter sent by 47 Republican senators to Iran's leaders — saying that any agreement the U.S. reached with them without congressional approval could be reversed by the next president "with a stroke of a pen" — is wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to start.

 

Billings Gazette (Montana)

 
 
The real galling part of this letter is the feigned concern for Iran. Sure, every leader — every American — should be concerned about Iran and nuclear weapons. However, Iran seems to be a convenient backdrop for what is really a political grudge match. The issue really isn’t about Iran. Instead, it’s about a power struggle between the president and Congress — a Republican Congress that is still reeling from questionable immigration policies done by executive order; or, maybe it’s the fallout from the somewhat successful yet vilified Obamacare health insurance program.

 

Providence Journal
 
 
Members of Congress have a constitutional right, and even a duty, to weigh in on matters affecting American security and foreign policy. But they should respect that the president is responsible for conducting the nation's foreign policy -- and refrain from undercutting those efforts in communications with foreign governments.
Even in the current Washington environment, writing letters to hostile foreign governments at a time when the State Department is trying to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough seems well beyond the pale. The Republican senators did not serve their country or their party well with this stunt.
 
Tags: Media

Nuke Talks: Latest from Iran, P5+1

On March 2, deputy foreign ministers from Iran and the world’s six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States – resumed negotiations over Iran’s controversial nuclear program in Montreux, Switzerland. Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held bilateral talks with Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, planning to join the rest of the negotiators in Montreux on March 5. The two sides are less than a month away from a self-imposed deadline for a political framework for a deal.

The new round of talks coincided with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial visit to Washington, D.C. to voice opposition to a potential nuclear deal before Congress. Zarif criticized Netanyahu’s speech as “scaremongering.”
 
The following are recent excerpted remarks by officials on the status of the nuclear negotiations.
 

Iran

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

On February 26, Khamenei's official Twitter account highlighted a number of the Supreme Leader's past statements on the nuclear issue.

 
President Hassan Rouhani
 
"It is currently clear to everyone that Iran is a side who is completely serious in the talks."
– March 2, 2015, according to the press
 
"The nuclear issue has no other solutions than negotiation; the negotiations sought fundamentally to create mutual confidence, and we believe that sanctions should be eliminated once altogether."
– March 1, 2015, according to the press
 
"The world is pleased with the progress in the negotiations between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany) since the results of this progress and agreement benefit the region and the world as well as the development, trade, economy, culture and settlement of the problems and threats created by extremism in the region and the world." 
– March 3, 2015, according to the press
 
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
 
"[Netanyahu] is against any solution” and his speech in the U.S. will show his desire “to derail peace in the region through scaremongering and spreading lies, even inside other countries.”
 
“It’s a futile effort and it must not become an obstacle to reaching an agreement.”
 
“We are hopeful that this week we can attain more progress on other issues, especially the removal of these cruel sanctions, and then we can formulate this progress into a comprehensive, precise and workable agreement.”
– Feb. 28, 2015, according to the press
 
“It is unfortunate that there is a group which sees its interests in tension and crisis.”
 
Netanyahu’s bid was “an attempt to utilize a fabricated crisis to cover up realities in the region, including occupation, the suppression of Palestinians and the violation of their rights.”
 
“It is an on old policy to intimidate and spread lies in order to prevent peace in the region.”
– Feb. 28, 2015, at a joint press conference with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni
 
"Our negotiating partners, particularly the Western countries and particularly the United States, must once and for all come to the understanding that sanctions and agreement don't go together.”
 
"If they want an agreement, sanctions must go... We believe all sanctions must be lifted."
 
"We have made some progress since last time and if there is the political will to accept that an agreement and sanctions cannot go together, then we can have an agreement this time."
– March 3, 2015, according to the press
 
 
"Iran is not about building nuclear weapons...We don't want to build nuclear weapons, we don't believe nuclear weapons bring security to anybody, certainly not to us."
 
Iran's nuclear ambitions are solely in the pursuit of "scientific advancement" and boosting national pride. "Once we reach that understanding, once this hysteria is out, once this fear mongering is out, then we can have a deal, and a deal that is not going to hurt anybody."
 
"We are prepared to work round the clock in order to reach an agreement. We believe that we are very close, very close and we could be very far...there are details that need to be worked out."
 

"We are very close if the political decision can be made to get to yes, as President Obama said."

– March 4, 2015, in an interview with NBC News

Atomic Energy Organizaton of Iran Leader Ali Akbar Salehi

"We have taken very good steps and managed to remove, as we believe, their fake concerns and worries through the technical offers we proposed."
– March 7, 2015, according to the press

The United States

 
President Barack Obama
 
“There is enormous suspicion between the Iranian regime and the world, not just the United States.
 
The Iranians have negotiated seriously because we were able to bring them to the table through some of the toughest sanctions that have been ever put in place. We have made progress in narrowing the gaps, but those gaps still exist. And I would say that over the next month or so, we're going to be able to determine whether or not their system is able to accept what would be an extraordinarily reasonable deal, if in fact, as they say, they are only interested in peaceful nuclear programs.
 
And if we have unprecedented transparency in that system, if we are able to verify that in fact they are not developing weapon systems, then there's deal to be had. But that's going to require them 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.”
 
“I think it is fair to say that there is an urgency because we now have been negotiating for well over a year.
 
And the good news is, is that during this period Iran has abided by the terms of the agreement, we know what is happening on the ground in Iraq. They have not advanced their nuclear program. We have been able to roll back their 20 percent highly enriched uranium during this period of time. It's given us unprecedented access into what they are doing. So we're not losing anything through these talks.
 
“If there's no deal, then we walk away. If we cannot verify that they are not going to obtain a nuclear weapon, that there's a breakout period, so that even if they cheated we would be able to have enough time to take action, if we don't have that kind of deal, then we're not going to take it.”
– March 7, 2015, in an interview with CBS
 
Secretary of State John Kerry
 
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, one of Iran’s vice presidents said today that Netanyahu’s speech actually serves Iran’s interests. I was recently in Iran and there were a lot of people who wanted this agreement. Does Netanyahu’s action actually help Iran?
 
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I’m just not going to play the game of walking into a debate about Iranian propaganda with respect to this visit. As I said, the prime minister is welcome in the United States at any time. We have an – we have an unparalleled close security relationship with Israel and we will continue to.
 
President Obama has done more to ensure the security of Israel by the creation of Iron Dome, by the development of weapons that are specifically calculated to be able to deal with Iran’s nuclear weapon problem. And the president has pledged that they will not get a nuclear weapon.
 
Now, I guarantee you, we have said again and again, no deal is better than a bad deal. We’re not going to make a bad deal. But remember, Martha, there were many people who opposed the interim agreement and said that was terrible. The fact is, the interim agreement has been adhered to. It has been inspected. We have proven that we have slowed Iran’s, even set back its nuclear program. And we are going to continue now to the next step to see – I can’t promise you we can. But we are going to test whether or not diplomacy can prevent this weapon from being created, so you don’t have to return to additional measures, including the possibility of a military confrontation.
 
Our hope is diplomacy can work. And I believe, given our success on the interim agreement, I believe we deserve the benefit of the doubt to find out whether or not we can get a similarly good agreement with respect to the future. It is better to do this by diplomacy than to have to do a strategy militarily, which you would have to repeat over and over again and which I think everybody believes ought to be after you have exhausted all the diplomatic remedies.
 – March 1, 2015, in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz
 
"We continue to believe, all the members of the P5+1, that the best way to deal with the questions surrounding this nuclear program is to find a comprehensive deal, but not a deal that comes at any cost, not a deal just for the purpose of a deal; a deal that meets the test of providing the answers and the guarantees that are needed in order to know that the four pathways to a nuclear bomb have been closed off.  And that is the task.  And we hope it is possible to get there, but there is no guarantee.
 
Sanctions alone are not going to provide that solution.  What needs to happen is that Iran needs to provide a verifiable set of commitments that its program is in fact peaceful.  And that average people and experts alike looking at that verifiable set of commitments have confidence that they are sustainable, that they are real, and that they will provide the answers and guarantees well into the future. 
 
Any deal must close every potential pathway that Iran has towards fissile material, whether it’s uranium, plutonium, or a covert path.  The fact is only a good, comprehensive deal in the end can actually check off all of those boxes. 
 
Now, I want to be clear about two things.  Right now, no deal exists, no partial deal exists.  And unless Iran is able to make the difficult decisions that will be required, there won’t be a deal.  Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  That is the standard by which this negotiation is taking place, and anyone who tells you otherwise is simply misinformed.
 
Now, we are concerned by reports that suggest selective details of the ongoing negotiations will be discussed publicly in the coming days.  I want to say clearly that doing so would make it more difficult to reach the goal that Israel and others say they share in order to get a good deal.  Israel’s security is absolutely at the forefront of all of our minds, but frankly, so is the security of all the other countries in the region, so is our security in the United States.  And we are very clear that as we negotiate with Iran, if we are able to reach the kind of deal that we’re hoping for, then it would have to be considered in its entirety and measured against alternatives.
 
Second – I cannot emphasize this enough.  I have said this from the first moment that I become engaged in this negotiating process, President Obama has said this repeatedly:  We will not accept a bad deal.  We have said no deal is better than a bad deal, because a bad deal could actually make things less secure and more dangerous.  Any deal that we would possibly agree to would make the international community, and especially Israel, safer than it is today.  That’s our standard.  So our team is working very hard to close remaining gaps, to reach a deal that ensures Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively and verifiably peaceful, and we have made some progress, but we still have a long way to go and the clock is ticking."
– March 2, 2015, at a press briefing in Geneva
 
"As Foreign Minister Fabius said a moment ago, we want an agreement that’s solid.  We want an agreement that will guarantee that we are holding any kind of program that continues in Iran accountable to the highest standards so that we know that it is, in fact, a peaceful program.  All of us in the P5+1 are deeply committed to ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.  And we continue to believe that a comprehensive deal that includes intrusive access and verification measures, and blocks each of the pathways to securing fissile material for a bomb and then to try and make a bomb itself, that the best way to achieve the goal is to shut off those pathways.
 
Now, I agree with Laurent.  We have exactly the same assessment.  We have made progress, but there remain gaps – divergences, as he said.  And we need to close those gaps.  And that is our goal over the course of the next days.  We have a critical couple of weeks ahead of us.  We’re all mindful that the days are ticking by.  But we’re not feeling a sense of urgency that we have to get any deal.  We have to get the right deal.  And it is frankly up to Iran – that wants this program, that wants a peaceful program, that asserts that they have a peaceful program – to show the world that it is indeed exactly what they say.  That’s the measure here.  And we planned a return to the talks.  Starting next Sunday, different folks will be having different conversations, and we look forward to trying to drive this thing to an appropriate conclusion.  And we will find out whether or not Iran is prepared to take the steps to answer the questions that the world has a right to get answers to."
– March 7, 2015, at a press briefing with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris
 
France
 
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius
 
"We are in favor of a solid agreement ... for now there remain difficulties. There has been progress but as far as the volume, checks and duration of the envisaged commitments are concerned, the situation is still insufficient, so there is more work to be done.”
– March 6, 2015 in remarks to reporters in Riga
 
European Union
 
High Representative Federica Mogherini
 
“I believe a good deal is at hand. I also believe that there is not going to be any deal if it is not going to be a good deal. And this is something we have to pass as a message to all our friends and partners.”
– March 6, 2015 at a foreign policy conference in Riga
 
Russia
 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
 
"By all means, we assist [the negotiations'] successful and timely completion and pursue agreements that would be firmly based on nuclear non-proliferation treaty principles and best practices of the International Atomic Energy Agency."
– March 2, 2015, according to the press
 
"At a meeting with [US Secretary of State John] Kerry and [Iranian Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif, we discussed a number of issues on the Iranian nuclear program...We noted serious progress reached at the talks of the P5+1 with Tehran."
 
"We discussed tasks we have to solve in order to achieve a result within the agreed time frames."
– March 2, 2015, according to the press
 

Germany

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

"As far as Iran is concerned – and John Kerry made the point earlier – we used the opportunity last week in Paris to talk to our European partners, France and Great Britain, and to harmonize a common approach which hopefully will take us into the final round of negotiations in the search for a solution. For more than a decade, that conflict has been with us. I have been involved with – in this process in different positions, in different functions – as the foreign minister during my first stint; now again. Thus, I may be permitted to say that for the very first time in those 10 years, I’m under the impression that negotiations in the last year have been of a serious nature. Progress has been visible. But again, both of us are convinced that not all impediments have been cleared away, and thus everyone is called upon to continue to – Iran is called upon to continue to negotiate in a spirit – in a serious spirit. And we ask and urge Iran to show and express its readiness to enter into a compromise.
 
This is not a choice between a good or a bad deal. It’s very clear what we want to see. We want to be very clear in that what we want to see is that it is made impossible for Iran to acquire a nuclear bomb. It has to be made clear – unequivocally clear. It has to be something that can be reviewed, and we want to see that achieved on a long-term basis."
– March 11, 2015, in a joint press conference with John Kerry

 

Connect With Us

Our Partners

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Logo