47 Senators Warn Iran–and Obama–that Deal Must Pass Congress

AFP PHOTO / The White House / Pete Souza
AFP PHOTO / The White House / Pete Souza

Forty-seven U.S. Senators have released an open letter to the Iranian government warning that any nuclear deal signed by President Barack Obama could be revoked by a subsequent U.S. president unless it is ratified by the Senate. The letter, while addressed to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” is really a warning to Obama not to bypass Congress.

The president has vowed to veto the “Corker-Menendez-Graham” bill, also known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, currently pending in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had prepared the bill for a vote this week, following last week’s stirring address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but delayed the vote under pressure from Democratic supporters of the bill who want to wait for the administration’s March negotiation deadline to expire first.

The letter (full text here) is a response to that threat, and informs Iranian leaders that they “may not fully understand our constitutional system…while the President negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.”

It concludes: “…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…”.

Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith, who worked on terrorism issues in the Bush administration, raps the Senators for a technical error, noting that while the Senate may pass a resolution of ratification, it is still the President who ratifies a treaty. However, he adds that the legal error does not effect the overall argument of the letter, which is that any nuclear deal signed with Iran may be invalid after 2016.

There are another two possible loopholes: the nuclear deal may not, in fact, be a “nuclear-weapons” deal, but a deal covering nuclear technology more generally; and Ayatollah Khamenei is rumored to have died or may be dead by the time any agreement is reached.

The letter, Josh Rogin of Bloomberg News reports, was organized by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a Harvard Law School graduate and veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Aside from its content, it may cause controversy for the rhetorical ploy of drawing attention to a domestic separation-of-powers dispute in correspondence with a foreign power, essentially inviting a theocratic regime in the Middle East to endorse the prerogatives of a democratically-elected legislature in the United States.

However, in doing so it may also strengthen the Obama administration’s hand at the negotiating table by demonstrating to the Iranian regime that the president has very little room for compromise.

The Jerusalem Post notes that the signatories include possible 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Rand Paul (R-KY).


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