Obama Blasts GOP Letter to Iran as Nod to "Hardliners"
President Obama assailed 47 Republican senators Monday for writing an open letter to the leaders of Iran while the country is in the middle of nuclear negotiations with the United States and allied nations, arguing the communication made “common cause with the hardliners in Iran.”
The letter, released publicly Monday, advised Iran’s leaders that any pact negotiated by the Obama administration and signed by Iran, and not ratified by Congress, could be voided by future presidents or modified by future Congresses. It was drafted as a lesson in the workings of the Constitution, and framed as a rebuke to the president’s executive authority.
Speaking in the Oval Office, Obama said the American people would assess the merits of any finalized agreement with Iran. If a deal is reached, “I’m confident we’ll be able to implement it,” he added.
“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,” the president observed.
Earlier Monday, Obama’s spokesman condemned the GOP letter as “a partisan strategy to undermine the president's ability to conduct foreign policy and advance our national security interests around the globe.”
On Capitol Hill, Democratic senators dismissed the authors as collaborators in a “stunt” dreamed up for domestic consumption and aimed at undercutting U.S. foreign policy because of opposition to Obama more than opposition to details that remain undisclosed to most lawmakers.
The multilateral talks with Iran, which have been extended twice, face an interim hurdle to reach a framework by the end of March, with a final deadline expected this summer. Iran seeks to lift international sanctions that have strangled its economy, while the United States and allied negotiators want to keep Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb.
Minority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Whip Dick Durbin, speaking from the Senate floor, criticized the GOP missive as partisan and inappropriate. In a coincidence of timing, Sen. Tom Cotton, the freshman Republican who was the lead signatory on the message to Iran, was presiding over the chamber as the two Democrats lobbed salvos at those they suggested were akin to saboteurs.
“Today’s unprecedented letter, originated by a United States senator who took his oath of office 62 days ago, is a kind of pettiness that diminishes us as a country in the eyes of the world,” Reid said.
“I can’t think of a precedent where you have had one political party in the United States Senate try to intervene in international negotiations,” Durbin added.
“Those who are so anxious to scuttle these negotiations, to undermine these negotiations, do you think they’ve reflected on the fact that the alternative could be another war in the Middle East?” he said, shifting his gaze between Reid and Cotton, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Josh Earnest, the president’s press secretary, assured Congress that the legislative branch is not being tossed to the sidelines of any enforceable agreement with Iran.
“The administration fully believes that there is a legitimate and even an important role for Congress to play when it comes to foreign policy,” he said, noting that lawmakers would weigh in as part of any nuclear pact that goes into effect -- when Iran’s compliance is evaluated and before sanctions were lifted.