Forty-seven Republican US senators warned Iran’s leaders on Monday that any nuclear deal with President Barack Obama could last only as long as he remains in office, an unusual partisan intervention in foreign policy that could undermine delicate international talks with Tehran.
The open letter was signed by all but seven of the Republicans in the Senate and none of Obama’s fellow Democrats, who called it a “stunt”. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed it as a “propaganda ploy” from pressure groups he called afraid of diplomatic agreement.
In the letter, the senators said Congress plays a role in ratifying international agreements. Noting Obama will leave office in January 2017, they said any deal not approved by Congress would be merely “an executive agreement” that could be revoked by Congress.
The White House said the letter was a partisan effort to undermine Obama’s foreign policy by lawmakers who oppose a deal even if the only alternative is military action.
Obama said his focus now was on seeing if negotiators could get a deal or not, taking a jab at Senate Republicans for allying themselves with Iranian hard-liners opposed to a deal.
“I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition,” Obama told reporters.
A Western diplomat said the action was “without precedent”. “It’s 100 percent an American issue, but obviously it could become a real problem,” the diplomat said.
Zarif blasted the Republicans. “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement ‘with the stroke of a pen’… it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law,” he said in a statement.
“We believe this letter has no legal value and is indeed just a propaganda ploy,” Zarif told CNN. “What’s more, while the negotiations have not yet borne fruit and there no agreement yet, pressure groups in the US are so worried that they are using extraordinary measures to prove that they, just like Netanyahu. oppose any kind of agreement.”
Vice-President Joe Biden joined in the chorus of voices speaking out against the letter, which he decried as “expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations” and “beneath the dignity of [the Senate,] an institution I revere”, in a statement.
“This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that our commander-in-chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments — a message that is as false as it is dangerous,” Biden said.
“Honourable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.”