Posted by: JanF | March 10, 2015

Vice President Biden’s Reply to Sen. Tom Cotton


Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR)?

Statement by the Vice President on the March 9th Letter From Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran

“I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.

This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.

Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval.

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.

There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran’s leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States.

The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL.

The President has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.

Bolding added
(h/t TPM )

Reaction to the GOP Senators’ Letter:

Detroit Free Press Editorial: GOP letter to Iran disgraces America

America looks weakest when its internal arguments spill over into its international diplomacy — something that has been rare in the nation’s history.

That it is happening now is a blot on the 114th U.S. Senate; specifically, on the 47 Republican senators who signed an open letter to the Islamic Republic of Iran, a missive whose sole purpose is to end President Barack Obama’s ongoing nuclear negotiations with that country.

Among the signatories of this letter are Sens. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky; Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, all three potential 2016 presidential contenders. At minimum, signing such a letter should disqualify each man from holding the high office they seek to degrade.[…]

Orchestrated by Sen. Tim Cotton, R-Arkansas, this letter masquerades as a civics lesson. Addressed to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” it begins with a note of condescension: “It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” […]

There’s no doubt that congressional backing for any international deal is preferred — congressional support would simplify questions such as whether Obama has the authority to lift congressionally imposed sanctions as part of an Iranian deal, and a ratified treaty carries more weight than an executive order.

But the Republicans who dispatched this letter have done more than embarrass a president they dislike. They have also disgraced themselves and undermined the credibility of the nation whose constitution they took an oath to uphold.

Iranian Foreign Minister

Asked about the open letter of 47 US Senators to Iranian leaders, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.”[…]
Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”

The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program.” […]

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not ‘modify the terms of the agreement at any time’ as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.”

Harry Reid, Senator Minority Leader

“Republicans are undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs. We should always have robust debate about foreign policy, but it’s unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States.”

Jack Goldsmith in Lawfare, The Error in the Senators’ Letter to the Leaders of Iran

Its premise is that Iran’s leaders “may not fully understand our constitutional system,” and in particular may not understand the nature of the “power to make binding international agreements.” It appears from the letter that the Senators do not understand our constitutional system or the power to make binding agreements.

The letter states that “the Senate must ratify [a treaty] by a two-thirds vote.” But as the Senate’s own web page makes clear: “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis). […]

This is a technical point that does not detract from the letter’s message that any administration deal with Iran might not last beyond this presidency. … But in a letter purporting to teach a constitutional lesson, the error is embarrassing.

Paul Waldman, WaPo: Republicans are beginning to act as though Barack Obama isn’t even the president

It’s safe to say that no president in modern times has had his legitimacy questioned by the opposition party as much as Barack Obama. But as his term in office enters its final phase, Republicans are embarking on an entirely new enterprise: They have decided that as long as he holds the office of the presidency, it’s no longer necessary to respect the office itself.[…]

It’s one thing to criticize the administration’s actions, or try to impede them through the legislative process. But to directly communicate with a foreign power in order to undermine ongoing negotiations? That is appalling. And just imagine what those same Republicans would have said if Democratic senators had tried such a thing when George W. Bush was president.[…]

And it isn’t just in foreign affairs. In an op-ed last week in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Mitch McConnell urged states to refuse to comply with proposed rules on greenhouse gas emissions from the Environmental Protection Agency. Never mind that agency regulations like these have the force of law, and the Supreme Court has upheld the EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon emissions — if you don’t like the law, just act as though it doesn’t apply to you. “I can’t recall a majority leader calling on states to disobey the law,” said Barbara Boxer, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, “and I’ve been here almost 24 years.” […]

But as has happened so many times before, Republicans seem to have concluded that there is one set of rules and norms that apply in ordinary times, and an entirely different set that applies when Barack Obama is the president. You no longer need to show the president even a modicum of respect. You can tell states to ignore the law. You can sabotage delicate negotiations with a hostile foreign power by communicating directly with that power.

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