Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call / AP

GOP senators threaten to overturn Iran nuclear deal

Letter warns that a deal signed by Obama could be reversed by a future Republican president; Zarif dismisses it

Forty-seven Republican senators warned Monday that any nuclear agreement being negotiated between Iran and world powers could be overturned if their party wins the White House in 2016. 

In an open letter addressed to Iranian leaders, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and 46 other Republicans stated that, absent congressional approval, the proposed deal would be merely an agreement with President Barack Obama — and could be reversed by his successor.

"The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen," they wrote, "and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time."

That may be a simplification, since the agreement to limit Iran's nuclear work would be an international one, concluded not only with the U.S. but also with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. If the next U.S. president or Congress moved to reverse or revoke such an agreement, particularly if other nations judged Iran to be in compliance, such a move would put Washington at odds with the international consensus on which the current sanctions against Iran are based. 

The White House responded by accusing the Republicans of conspiring with Iranians oppose the talks.

“I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran,” President Obama said a few hours after the letter was made public. “It’s an unusual coalition.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif responded via state media, dismissing the letter as a "propaganda ploy" and noting that many international deals are "mere executive agreements." He suggested the senators were undermining not only the propective deal with Iran but also other international deals as well.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Monday railed against Republicans for attempting “to blow up a major effort by our country and the world powers to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear program.”

“This is a highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs and is not befitting this chamber,” she said in a statement. “This letter only serves one purpose—to destroy an ongoing negotiation to reach a diplomatic agreement in its closing days.”

The GOP-led Congress has been campaigning against the proposed nuclear agreement, most visibly by inviting Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint meeting of the House and Senate, where he denounced the deal. 

Republicans and some Democrats want Congress to vote on any agreement. The pact that negotiators from six world powers and Iran are working on does not require congressional approval because it is not a treaty, which would require a two-thirds majority Senate vote to be ratified. Obama is expected to use executive power to relax some sanctions against Iran in line with the requirements of the deal.

The U.S. and the other world powers are seeking an agreement that strengthens safeguards against Iran’s repurposing of civilian nuclear infrastructure to pursue nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting sanctions. Iran insists its nuclear work is strictly for peaceful purposes, and negotiators are asking Tehran to accept greater transparency and verification that it is abiding by such safeguards. 

The next negotiations are scheduled for March 15, and wide gaps remain between the two sides. The sides had set a deadline for a political agreement by the end of March, with a full technical agreement to follow.

Al Jazeera and the Associated Press

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