Republican Letter to Iran Dismissed as 'Propaganda Ploy,' Negotiations Not Bilateral

Iran's foreign minister dismissed the Republican letter explaining the Constitution as a "propaganda ploy" and pointed out a deal wouldn't be bilateral.



Forty seven of 54 Senate Republicans signed an open letter (pdf) addressed to the "leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran," who "may not fully understand our constitutional system," purporting to explain how the Constitution works and warning that an "executive agreement" between President Obama and the supreme leader of Iran might not be honored by a future U.S. president. From the letter:

First, under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a two-thirds vote. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.

The Republicans go on to explain term lengths and limits, noting President Obama leaves office in 2017 but some of them may remain in office for "decades." None of the seven Republican senators who didn't sign the letter—Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Susan Collins (Maine), That Cochran (Miss.), and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)—are considered likely presidential candidates.

Vice President Joe Biden thought the letter was "beneath the dignity" of the institution he reveres, and spent decades in himself. Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, dismissed the letter as a transparent "propaganda play," which he said suggested:

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."

Iran's foreign minister also pointed out in comments in a press release from Iran's U.N. mission that any agreement on the country's nuclear program would not be a bilateral deal between the U.S. and Iran but include other countries involved in the negotiations as well. Zarif:

"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 negotiations with Iran, in fact, are happening in part within the context of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a treaty Iran acceded to in 1970, before the coup that brought the Islamic Republic to power. Iran has been found in non-compliance of the treaty before but, unlike North Korea, has not withdrawn from the treaty. Other countries that acquired nuclear capabilities after the 1940s—Israel, India, and Pakistan—are not members of the treaty.

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  1. It went right into Iran’s spam folder.

    1. The filter catches anything without the requisite pbuh

  2. Wonderful, we’re being mocked by Iran like we mock North Korea. Stoopid party gonna stoopid.

  3. This letter turned out way better than I thought it would. I thought they were going to send out something complaining about the presidents actions, but instead they decided to remind the world that they are the ones in charge of treaties. Good on congress, it’s about time they asserted their authority.

    1. Pointing out who has authority over treaties is unprecedented in diplomatic history!

  4. This article is completely erroneous. I have it on good authority, from a lefty friend on Facebook, that this letter undermines the President and everyone who signs it should be brought up on treason charges. She did this in a very angry and profane post, so it must be true.

  5. Beneath the dignity of the U.S. Senate? How dare Joe Biden!! Nothing is beneath the dignity of that institution.

    1. Come now, Biden is an expert at things beneath dignity!

    2. They do have Joe Biden as President.

  6. “The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments … may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”

    Really? So I could fly to Iran, say that I’m here to represent the US, make an agreement with them, and then the US couldn’t say that its not bound by my agreement since internal US law says I have no authority to make such an agreement? I’m certainly no international law expert, but that seems quite unlikely to me.

    1. Under the U.S. system, treaties are just another kind of federal law, but one that can be ratified by just one house, the Senate. Legally, it’s simply not true that treaties trump everything else–they don’t. The treaties that are only signed off by the executive branch and not ratified are accepted these days, but they aren’t really binding in the same sense, given that Congress can refuse to implement one jot of the treaty or can pass laws contrary to the treaty.

      1. Ok. But the Iranian official’s position appears to be that the US obligated by any international agreement reached by the President, regardless of any ratification procedures or other features of US law that limit or restrict his authority.

      2. I’m not sure about that.

        The whole point of making treaties “supreme” is that no one would make the concessions necessary to get a treaty unless they knew that the United States’ treaty obligations were legally binding in the future.

        It’s a necessary precondition for standing in negotiations.

        That’s why it takes a two-thirds of the Senate super-majority to ratify it–just like it does with an Amendment to the Constitution.

        I would say a treaty is below the Constitution, but it’s above federal law.

        1. What do you base that on? The same clause of the constitution that makes treaties “supreme” also make federal law “supreme.” I’m pretty sure the point of the supremacy clause is to say that federal law and treaties outrank state and local laws.

          1. I think that “supreme” is about supremacy over state law–both treaties and federal law are over the states.

            I don’t think it’s addressing them in relation to each other.

            1. Yeah, That’s what I said. But you claimed that “a treaty is below the Constitution, but it’s above federal law.” Do you have any basis for that claim?

              1. A law can be repealed with simple majorities.

                I don’t believe that’s true with a treaty.

                I’m not even sure treaties can be repealed unilaterally.

                They can certainly be violated!

                1. A treaty can’t be “repealed,” but a party can “withdraw” from it.

          2. Meanwhile, if a treaty is the same as federal law, wouldn’t that mean it could be repealed at any time with a simple majority?

            Why can’t it be enacted with a simple majority?

            1. I never said it was the “same as federal law.” They are clearly different. What I said is that, so far as I’m aware, treaties don’t outrank federal laws when the two conflict.

              1. They are on the same level, and in the event of conflict the more recent of the two prevails. But that’s all a matter of domestic law, it has no bearing on the obligations of the US under international law.

                1. They’re not in the same level if one of them needs a supermajority to “repeal”.

                  And you can withdraw from a treaty–assuming the terms of the treaty allow that.

                  Hell, even poorly written business contacts have an exit clause.

                  I hope you all are getting that I’m not talking about the way things should be. I’m talking about the way things are. If two-thirds of a Democrat controlled Congress ratified a climate change treaty that getting out of was made as difficult as possible within the treaty, Congress would not simply be able to repeal it or overwrite it with a new law.

                  In that regard, treaties are not on the same level as federal law.

    2. That’s nice. They’re right that the US is not the world, but who’s gonna tell it what to do if the next president reneges on Obama’s agreement? Will the UN send a letter expressing its disappointment?

      1. “But who’s gonna tell it what to do if the next president reneges on Obama’s agreement?

        The Supreme Court

  7. The huffing and puffing on the left about “treason” is ridiculous. It’s treason to send a letter explaining constitutional authority to a foreign power? Really?

    To “undermine” Obama is to be treasonous? Really?

    These people are really loosing their shit as Obama flails.

  8. It will be great to see elephant reaction when the donkeys do this to “their guy” over some foreign policy initiative. Just sayin…

    1. Didn’t the Democrats do something similar under BOOOOOSH!!!!!1!?

        1. Didn’t the Democrats do something similar under BOOOOOSH!!!!!1!?

          The story behind McDermott’s controversial Iraq trip

          The alleged Saddam Hussein spy money that paid for Rep. Jim McDermott’s trip to Iraq in 2002 came after a stranger called a Seattle anti-war activist and offered to finance the prewar visit.

          The Seattle activist, Bert Sacks, said he was making arrangements for the trip at McDermott’s request when he got the call out of the blue from a man who identified himself as a concerned Iraqi-American.

          Federal prosecutors believe the money was illegally funneled from Saddam’s intelligence officials, through an unnamed intermediary, and to a Dearborn Heights, Mich., activist named Muthanna Al-Hanooti.

        2. Didn’t the Democrats do something similar under BOOOOOSH!!!!!1!?

          Pelosi shrugs off Bush’s criticism, meets Assad

          U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday for talks criticized by the White House as undermining American efforts to isolate the hard-line Arab country.

          Pelosi’s visit to Syria was the latest challenge to the White House by congressional Democrats, who are taking a more assertive role in influencing policy in the Middle East and the Iraq war.

  9. Playing footsie with Saddam and Assad? Dissent! Patriotism!
    Sending a letter to Khatami? Treason!

    Got it.

  10. I think it’s fantastic to see the Senate assert itself like this. It isn’t hard to imagine why they might–given that the Obama Administration has shown open contempt for Congress’ role in ratifying treaties specifically.

    “WASHINGTON ? The Obama administration is working to forge a sweeping international climate change agreement to compel nations to cut their planet-warming fossil fuel emissions, but without ratification from Congress.

    In preparation for this agreement, to be signed at a United Nations summit meeting in 2015 in Paris, the negotiators are meeting with diplomats from other countries to broker a deal to commit some of the world’s largest economies to enact laws to reduce their carbon pollution. But under the Constitution, a president may enter into a legally binding treaty only if it is approved by a two-thirds majority of the Senate.”

    New York Times, August 26, 2014…..reaty.html

    Notice, the Obama Administration made this announcement a week before the midterms!

    Obama isn’t just contemptuous of Congress. He’s contemptuous of the Democrats in Congress! Now that he’s been reelected, he doesn’t care what happens to the Democrats. He isn’t going to hold back anything just to save them.

    1. And given the way Obama does things? Letting him fiddle with our healthcare was bad enough. Nuclear proliferation is too important an issue to let Obama sell American security down the river–just so that he can have a nice photo op and claim some kind of legacy.

      We shouldn’t let Obama pass it to see what’s in it on a nuclear proliferation treaty with Iran, and we shouldn’t let him make an agreement treaty on climate change come Paris in December either.

      1. oh kenny-boy glad to kno that feelings wants and whims are still central to your philosphy.

        1. I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean, but why don’t you go hump somebody else’s leg for a while?

          1. I’ve noticed a sharp decline in the quality of trolls over the last couple weeks. They don’t even try to make their usual stupid ass arguments anymore. It’s all just ad homs and shit flinging.

  11. That Cochran (Miss.)

    Thad Cochran, Ed, the Senior US Senator from Mississippi is William Thad Cochran.

  12. Yeah, tell me more about this “international law” I’m obliged to follow. Fuck off, slavers…

  13. The United States and the Soviet Union were on the only nations in to acquire nuclear weapons in “the 1940s”

    The first American nuclear bomb test was in 1945.
    The first Soviet nuclear bomb test was in 1949.
    The first British nuclear bomb test was in 1952.
    The first French nuclear bomb test was in 1960.
    The first Chinese nuclear bomb test was in 1964.

    Those are the 5 recognized & permitted nuclear weapons states under the NPT, which as you note was signed in 1970.

  14. The letter is a response to a President who made it clear he thinks he can bind the US to a treaty agreement without the consent of the Senate is clear violation of the US Constitution. Obama’s narcissism and arrogance is the source of the battle, not the Senators. Obama is obsessed with making this deal because he knows his presidency will be seen by history as a failure. However, he thinks brokering a deal like Carter did with Israel and Egypt will create some type of lasting legacy. I think Obama knows eventually his healthcare plan will be overturned or simply collapse since it was so poorly written and poorly implemented. He is desperate not to be part of Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Pierce or Chester Arther part of Presidential history.

  15. So disappointing seeing R. Paul signing on to this ridiculousness. I was bothered by his attempt to straddle the line about the DHS funding vote, knowing full well the democrats were going to win. Now I understand what people are referring to when they wonder about his attempt to win over the Republican powers (Adelson) and not alienating libertarians.

    At the end of the day, the Republican leadership bafoons look like a bunch of political amateurs.

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