Democrats denounce Republican letter on Iran nuke talks
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional Democrats on Tuesday accused Senate Republicans who signed a letter to Iran’s leadership of undermining President Barack Obama in international talks aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program and preventing the need for future military conflict.
In the letter to Iran, Republican lawmakers warned that unless Congress approved it, any nuclear deal they cut with Obama could expire the day he walks out of the White House. Among the signers were members of the leadership and potential presidential candidates.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also weighed in, saying Republicans were either trying to help the Iranians or hurt Obama.
As negotiators rush to reach an accord with Iran by the end of the month, partisan bickering continued in Congress, prompting Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine to ask, rhetorically: “Is the Senate capable of tackling challenging national security questions in a mature and responsible way?”
Kaine said the letter Republican freshman Sen. Tom Cotton wrote to the leaders of Iran amounted to a partisan “sideshow.”
The letter, signed by 47 of the Senate’s 54 Republicans, drew strong condemnation from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said reflected a “rush to war, or at least the rush to the military option.”
Cotton denied undermining Obama’s negotiating position. Appearing on MSNBC, he said, “We’re making sure that Iran’s leaders understand that if Congress doesn’t approve a deal, Congress won’t accept a deal.”
In a statement issued late Monday night, Biden said Republicans had “ignored two centuries of precedent” and he said the move “threatens to undermine the ability” of any future president to negotiate with foreign countries.
Biden, in his statement, noted that presidents of both political parties have negotiated historic international agreements. “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,” he noted.
The Republican-drafted letter was an aggressive attempt to make it more difficult for Obama and five world powers to strike an initial agreement by the end of March to limit Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.
Republicans worry that Iran is not negotiating in good faith and that a deal would be insufficient and unenforceable, allowing Iran to eventually become a nuclear-armed state. They have made a series of proposals to undercut or block it — from requiring Senate say-so on any agreement to ordering new penalty sanctions against Iran to threats of stronger measures.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a likely Republican presidential candidate, issued a statement suggesting Republican senators were justified in sending the letter.
“The senators are reacting to reports of a bad deal that will likely enable Iran to become a nuclear state over time,” Bush said.
Explaining the difference between a Senate-ratified treaty and a mere agreement between Obama and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the senators warned, “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.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was quoted by the website of Iranian state TV on Tuesday as saying the letter’s warning that any nuclear deal could be scrapped once Obama leaves office suggests the United States is “not trustworthy.” He called the letter “unprecedented and undiplomatic.”
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Steve Peoples, Chuck Babington, Laurie Kellman and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington and Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.