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GOP senators explain why Iran can’t trust America in open letter

Ayatollah Khamenei, raring to talk about the separation of powers.
Ayatollah Khamenei, raring to talk about the separation of powers.
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

Over 40 Republican Senators have written a letter to Iran's leadership — in which they America-splain, for multiple paragraphs, the very basics of how the US constitution works.

The letter, first reported by Bloomberg View's Josh Rogin, warns that Congress or a future president could overturn President Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran if they dislike the outcome. Apparently meant to downplay the Obama administration's authority to negotiate with Iran, the letter is part of an ongoing congressional Republican effort to prevent Obama from reaching what they see as a bad deal with Iran.

"It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system," the senators write. While the bulk of the letter is a vaguely condescending retelling of Schoolhouse Rock — term limits are explained at one point — it goes on to argue that any nuclear deal that Congress doesn't support would be a mere "executive agreement," and hence could be altered or revoked entirely by Congress or a future president. Here's the whole thing:

The letter is clearly designed to make Iranian leaders more wary about any deal with Obama: if Congress or a future president could simply break the deal, Iran has less reason to trust Obama, and thus less reason to negotiate.

"Iran's ayatollahs need to know before agreeing to any nuclear deal that ... any unilateral executive agreement is one they accept at their own peril," Sen. Tom Cotton, who organized the letter, told Rogin.

It's no secret that many Republicans don't like what they're hearing about Obama's negotiations with Iran. But this is an interesting tactic for weakening them. It would be difficult for Republicans to pass new legislation, such as sanctions, to disrupt a deal; they would have limited Democratic support and would need to overcome a presidential veto. Still, you don't need to hold a vote to write a letter.

Even if the letter has no effect on negotiations, the politics behind it are interesting. The organizer, Cotton, is a freshman who's already making a name for himself as one of the most hawkish members of the GOP Senate delegation. The fact that he could organize 40-odd senators to sign on to this letter illustrates his ability to organize and direct the GOP's more hawkish energies.

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