Republicans’ letter on Iran – ‘attempt to poison the well’

Reuters/Heinz-Peter Bader
The Republicans feel they can sabotage an Iranian agreement and bring things back to ground zero, but this is a misreading and will lead to a collapse of the sanctions regime internationally, says Conn Hallinan, columnist at Foreign Policy in Focus.

A group of 47 Republican senators signed an open letter to the Iranian government. They warned that any agreement they reach with President Obama, could be scrapped once he leaves office. They also stressed that all international agreements need approval from the US Congress. The letter was posted a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave its speech in the Congress.

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RT:President Obama has given his reaction to this letter saying “it's somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It's an unusual coalition." What prompted the Republican Senators to write this letter? What’s your take on that?

Conn Hallinan: What happened was that a week ago, right after Netanyahu finished his speech, the Republicans tried to get a resolution through to essentially threaten to step up the sanctions. And the Democrats revolted, they wouldn’t go along with it. They could have filibustered and prevented it from happening. So instead what happened was [Senator Tom] Cotton came up with this letter, in which of course it’s all Republicans that didn’t need any Democrats…

There are two things about it: it’s obviously an attempt to poison the well, it is a sort a warning shot across the Iranian’s bow that the Republicans are not going to go along with any agreement that they basically are going to back Netanyahu on this situation. It is also sort of a gratuitous insult to be lecturing the Iranians on the US constitution, which by the way they didn’t get entirely correct. It is true that treaties need to be approved by the Senate, but not agreements. It is also true that an agreement can be reversed. All agreements can be reversed for that matter. But the idea behind this letter is simply to tell the Iranians: “We’re not going to go along with anything that you decide!” And it’s an attempt to torpedo the talks. I think the Republicans think they have more power than they actually do in reality.

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RT:You’ve mentioned “poisoning the well.” The US Constitution gives the President the authority to negotiate treaties or agreements. Is his authority right now being severely undermined by Congress?

CH: Surely! It was certainly undermined by Netanyahu… The idea of a leader of foreign country coming to the major legislative body in the country [US] and telling people that they shouldn’t support the chief executive’s foreign policy - it is just amazing. It’s never happened in American history.

The thing that is interesting here is that the Republicans kind of feel - some Democrats support them - that they can sabotage the agreement and therefore things will go back to ground zero with the sanctions on, etc. I think that is a misreading. If there is an agreement with Iran and the Senate or the Congress doesn’t remove these sanctions what you’re going to see is the collapse of the sanctions regime internationally. You’re going to say in the case of even the EU, but certainly Russia, China, most of the rest of the world… they are going to say: “Well, this is a dispute, that is an internal matter in the US, that is not an international matter. We’re not going to go along with these sanctions anymore.” So I think what you’re going to see is a kind of collapse of the sanctions regime. I don’t think that the Republicans have sort of fired a shot across the bow, but…they missed what they were shooting. They got it wrong and that is going to isolate the US in these talks, not isolate Iran.

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) (Reuters/Larry Downing)

‘Republicans intimidating Democrats, push them towards Obama’

Robert Naiman, policy director at Just Foreign Policy explained his view on the Republicans move.

Clearly they want to blow up the talks and they are in a kind of panic because the belief is spreading that the US and Iran, and the other parties to the negotiations are close to a deal. So they are trying increasingly desperate tactics like bringing the Prime Minister of Israel [Benjamin Netanyahu] to come and speak to Congress, and now this letter. What’s striking about this is that it doesn’t really make sense from their point of view if their goal was really to derail the talks legislatively because the things that they are doing are being increasingly perceived in the US as totally partisan,” he told RT.

Naiman pointed out that not only did they fail to get a single Democrat to sign the letter, not even all the Republican senators backed the move.

In fact they didn’t even get all the Republicans to sign [the letter]. There are 47 Republicans; there are 54 Republicans in the Senate. They didn’t get [Bob] Corker who is the Republican Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee… That is more about the 2016 Republican Presidential election, and Republican fund-raising from the Republican base, people like Sheldon Adelson, more for show than directed at changing the outcome of the negotiations. Seems like the opposite - they are pushing the Democrats towards Obama. They are intimidating the Democrats that might want to be with them in criticizing the talks.”

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.