So what do we make of the 47 Republican senators who decided to write a letter to Iran’s leaders in the midst of nuclear arms negotiations between President Obama and the less-than-transparent nation of Iran? At this juncture, we know that Iran has operated secret nuclear facilities in the past (in the cities of Qom and Natanz) and that estimates suggest Iran could have 190,000 centrifuges enriching uranium within a matter of several weeks. The lack of transparency observed by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is very concerning for anyone living outside of Iran, as inspectors are kept in the dark regarding the nation’s military nuclear program. It has been revealed that President Obama’s current deal with Iran’s leaders involves numerous concessions: these include a sunset period (the deal will cease to take effect after a certain date) of 10 years, as well as an inability to destroy nuclear facilities belonging to Iran.
When Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK) and 46 other Senate Republicans sent Iran’s top officials a letter on March 9th, there was and continues to be much controversy as to whether or not they have violated the Logan Act—a 1799 law that forbids any U.S. citizen (acting without official U.S. authority) from influencing “disputes or controversies” that involve a foreign government and the United States of America. While the senators in this case are clearly attempting to sway negotiations towards restricting President Obama from coming to an agreement with Iran, it is less definite as to whether or not the Republican congressmen are acting without official U.S. authority. One may argue that those who have signed this letter do in fact wield “official U.S. authority” and that these signatories serve as federal officers considering their role as senators in the United States Congress.
But regardless of any laws that may have been broken, what should we think of this entire situation? Tom Cotton and his colleagues are evidently worried about the path towards which President Obama and his administration are headed. In interviews, they have alluded to their constituents’ concerns and in their letter warned Iran’s leaders, “we will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khomenei.” While the letter was certainly a bold idea, the purpose of its content may be misrepresented or misperceived.
The 47 senators were intent on implicitly praising Netanyahu’s speech and revealing that President Obama’s negotiations were leading the U.S. towards a horrible deal that could threaten global security. It now appears that due to media reports and the White House’s reaction, the conversation has shifted from foreign policy to a political fight between the sitting Democratic President and Republican congressmen. Even Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advised against the letter by saying, “I didn’t think it was going to further our efforts to get to a place where Congress would play the appropriate role that it should on Iran.” Iran leaders have said that the letter is a propaganda ploy and bears no legal value, and how it shows the worried nature of one group.
Well, it is clear that we all should be worried. Vice President Biden denounced the letter by saying it was “beneath the dignity” of the Senate, and White House spokesman Eric Schultz described the letter as a “blatant, flagrant, and partisan attempt to interfere with negotiations.” Even former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted “GOP letter to Iranian clerics undermines American leadership.” Are these opinions right? At this point, it doesn’t really matter. Yes, going around colleagues’ backs to sign letters in the midst of negotiations may seem childish. Will it ultimately even help the situation? Only time will tell. But know this one thing—if our own legislative and executive branches are not talented at striking solid deals between each other, do not expect a promising negotiation to arise after talks with a foreign adversary.