Obama says he's 'embarrassed' for GOP senators who wrote letter to Khamenei

In an interview with Vice News, the president said that the letter was "close to unprecedented."

March 13, 2015 18:15
2 minute read.
US President Barack Obama (L) jokes with TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel during a taping in Los Angel

US President Barack Obama (L) jokes with TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel during a taping in Los Angeles. (photo credit: REUTERS)

US President Barack Obama was quoted on Friday as saying that he was "embarrassed" for the 47 Republican senators who wrote a letter to the Iranian government threatening to undermine any agreement reached regarding Tehran's nuclear program.

In an interview with Vice News, the president said that the letter was "close to unprecedented."

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"I'm embarrassed for them," the president told Vice News. "For them to address a letter to the ayatollah ... who they claim is our mortal enemy, and their basic argument to them is, 'Don't deal with our president because you can't trust him to follow through on an agreement.' That's close to unprecedented."

Opposed to the deal under discussion, which would temporarily cap, restrict, roll back and monitor Iran’s nuclear work, Senate Republicans informed 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,” reads the letter, written by Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), a junior senator, “and any future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

The US and other major world powers have quietly begun talks on a UN Security Council resolution to lift UN sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck, a step that could make it harder for the US Congress to undo a deal, Western officials said.

The talks between Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - the five permanent members of the Security Council - plus Germany and Iran, are taking place ahead of difficult negotiations that resume next week over constricting Tehran's nuclear ability.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress on Wednesday that an Iran nuclear deal would not be legally binding, meaning future presidents could decide not to implement it. That point was emphasized in an open letter by 47 Republican senators sent on Monday to Iran's leaders asserting any deal could be discarded once President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017

But a Security Council resolution on a nuclear deal with Iran could be legally binding, say Western diplomatic officials, complicating and possibly undercutting future attempts by Republicans in Washington to unravel an agreement.

Iran and the six powers are aiming to complete the framework of a final nuclear deal by the end of March and achieve a full agreement by June 30 to curb Iran's most sensitive nuclear activities for at least 10 years in exchange for a gradual end of all sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

So far, those talks have focused heavily on separate U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors, which Tehran desperately wants removed and are a sticking point in the talks that resume next week in Lausanne, Switzerland, between Iran and the six powers.

But Western officials involved in the negotiations said they are also discussing a draft resolution for the 15-nation Security Council to begin easing U.N. nuclear-related sanctions that have been in place since December 2006.

"If there's a nuclear deal, and that's still a big 'if', we'll want to move quickly on the U.N. sanctions issue," an official said, requesting anonymity.

Michael Wilner and Reuters contributed to this report.

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