Hillary Clinton blasts Senate Republicans over Iran nuclear letter

Monday's open letter to Iran's leaders, signed by 47 Republican senators, sparked a political firestorm.

March 11, 2015 01:05
3 minute read.
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Hillary Clinton (L) and US President Barack Obama (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former secretary of state and likely Democratic presidential candidate for 2016, on Tuesday criticized a letter written by 47 Republican senators directly to Irawn over a potential deal on its nuclear program.

“One has to ask what was the purpose of this letter,” Clinton said during a press conference at the United Nations in New York.

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The former first lady questioned whether its author intended to be “harmful to the commander-in-chief in the midst of high stakes diplomacy.”

The deal under discussion, she said, might provide the United States with “unprecedented access and insight” into Iran and its nuclear program.

But she declined to fully endorse the deal.

“We all must judge any final agreement on its merits,” she said. “Reasonable people can disagree.”

The Obama administration is charging Republicans in the Senate with engaging in “unprecedented” and “damaging” behavior.

Chief among their critics is Vice President Joe Biden, who released a sharply worded statement Monday night accusing former colleagues of acting “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,” Biden said. “Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.”

The vice president, a longtime veteran of the Senate, echoed a repudiation of the Republicans that the White House issued on Monday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also called the letter an unprecedented “propaganda ploy.”

Opposed to the deal under discussion, which would temporarily cap, restrict, roll back and monitor Iran’s nuclear work, Senate Republicans wrote to Iran that such a deal would be a “mere executive agreement” without a vote of congressional approval.

“The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen,” said the letter, authored by Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), a junior senator, “and any future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Biden minced no words in criticizing the letter and its supporters.

“In 36 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,” he said.

“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 also questioned the fundamental thinking of those opposing the deal, repeating language used by the White House after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress last week. Netanyahu strongly disapproved of the agreement in its current form.

“There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program,” the vice president said. “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.”

Responding to the fallout, Cotton said he disagreed that his initiative undermined President Barack Obama’s diplomatic effort.

“It’s the job of the president to negotiate, but it’s the job of Congress to approve,” the senator told ABC News. “We’re simply trying to say that Congress has a constitutional role to approve any deal, to make sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon. Not today, not tomorrow, not 10 years from now.”

Several members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, are seeking an up-or-down vote on any deal reached by Iran and world powers.

Ultimately, a deal is expected to require that Congress ease, lift or repeal nuclear-related sanctions originally passed through the legislature.

But that won’t be necessary for “quite some time,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

Biden also noted that congressional approval had not been required for historic foreign policy initiatives in the past, such as the opening of China, the conclusion of the Vietnam War and the deal ridding Syria of its chemical-weapons stockpiles.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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