Even if the US Congress does not muster enough votes to shoot down the Iran nuclear deal, it is not a legally binding obligation and the next president could “easily unwind” it, visiting US Senator Tom Cotton said Tuesday.
Cotton, a freshman Republican senator from Arkansas, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that unless the deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action, is submitted to Congress as a treaty and ratified by two-thirds of both chambers, “it could be modified by the next US president, or this or any other Congress.”
It is a point that Cotton spelled out in an open letter to the Iranian leadership he initiated earlier this year, and was signed by 46 other Republican senators. That letter triggered a great deal of controversy, with Cotton accused by some of trying to usurp the foreign policy privileges reserved for the president.
Cotton told the Post that if the nuclear deal passes Congress in its current form, it will be “a mere executive agreement that could be changed by the next president on the very first day of his presidency.”
As to the implications, Cotton said that “if one is a corporate executive or director anywhere in the world, one might have second thoughts about rushing into Iran early next year when this deal might unravel in early 2017.”
Cotton, a Harvard-educated lawyer and combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who at 38 is the youngest member of the Senate, arrived in Israel on Saturday for a fiveday visit during which he is meeting top Israeli officials. He met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.
Asked to address those who say that the possibility that Congress won’t be able to stop the deal at this point represents a “tactical failure” for Netanyahu, Cotton said that US President Barack Obama was committed to the deal “before he even took office.”
“There is not much a foreign leader, and quite frankly not much many American opposition leaders can do,” in the face of a president committed to “ram a deal through with a small, rump partisan minority,” he said.
Cotton rejected the idea that Netanyahu’s opposition to the accord has damaged Israeli-US relations in the long term, saying it was not the actions of any Israeli government or leader that has hurt those ties, but rather “many US policies over the last six years that have undermined the alliance to some degree, as [former ambassador to the US] Michael Oren wrote in his recent book.”
Cotton, who did not disclose any details of his meeting with Netanyahu, supported the premier in his decision not to sit down with the administration and talk about a “compensation package” that would better enable Israel to deal with fallout from the deal.
The senator said that at this time the focus needed to be “100 percent on this very dangerous nuclear deal,” and the efforts in Congress to kill it.
He said there would be ample time in the future to discuss “cooperation between our governments on various threats.”
Cotton did not seem concerned that the type of aid and cooperation that the administration may offer now might not be possible after the fight over the Iran deal in Congress is over.
“I can’t speak for the president, but I can speak for myself and can presume to speak for many of my colleagues in Congress that it won’t change our perspective, and Congress is the branch of government that authorizes much of the support for Israel, like the memorandum of understanding that provides Israel with military assistance,” he said.
Regarding concern in Jerusalem that once the Iran deal is done, the administration might begin pushing Israel hard on the Palestinian track, Cotton said that the administration “has a regrettable tendency to continue to stoke one of the few issues not on the front burner right now in the Middle East as the answer to all the problems in the Middle East.”
Although he said he did not want to predict whether Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry would “once again, try to resurrect the peace negotiations, in part by putting undo pressure on Israel,” Cotton said that if they were to do so, there would be significant “push back” from “many of my colleagues in Congress.”
While the momentum in Congress to get the 34 Senate votes needed to block an attempt to override his veto seems to be on Obama’s side, Cotton said that such a victory would be hollow and unprecedented.
Cotton said he did not know of another time where such a significant international agreement “goes forward with a strong majority in both chambers of Congress voting against it.” He said this was something that would show “the civilized world, as well as our adversaries, just how unpopular the deal is in the United States.”
A Quinnipiac University Poll released on Monday showed that 55% of the US public was opposed to the deal, 25% were in favor and another 20% either didn’t know or did not answer.
Cotton disputed the assumption that the Netanyahu-Obama battle over this and other issues has harmed Israel’s standing among the US public, saying that the level of support for Israel is, in his opinion, “as high as ever.”
As to why he, a senator from a state with a very small Jewish community, is such a strong supporter of Israel, Cotton said: “At root, regardless of one’s religion, Israel is a liberal constitutional democracy that respects individual freedom, and that has a market-based economy.
Those are deeply shared values that the United States has encoded in our national DNA .
“Furthermore,” Cotton said, “we have very strong national security ties and shared interests in the region.
And finally, many of the Christians I represent recognize the deep kinship between the Jewish people and Christians in Arkansas, in America and worldwide, and they believe that the Jewish people rightly deserve their homeland.”