Winning sympathy for the renegade Islamic Republic of Iran is no easy trick. But Republicans in the US Senate seem to be accomplishing it with their breathtakingly reckless intrusion into international diplomacy.
Under the guise of an American civics lesson pointedly but also pointlessly aimed at Iran’s already isolated, mistrustful, hostile-to-the-United States leadership, Senate Republicans may sabotage highly delicate negotiations to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear development program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
An open letter signed by 47 Republican senators, including New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, warns that any diplomatic deal struck by President Obama could be overturned by the next administration “with the stroke of a pen.’’
That’s correct; aspects of an international deal between the US and Iran — such as lifting economic sanctions – would need approval by the Senate or might be vetoed by Obama’s successor. But for Obama’s opponents to hurl their political slings now is dangerously wrongheaded. At the very least, it’s an infringement on a sensitive process that involves not only the United States and Iran but five other powers: Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. By offering up the nattering little lesson on the American political process — a process well understood by Iran’s elite nuclear negotiators — the Senate majority party is blatantly trying to upset the apple cart before the fruit of diplomacy can even be put out for inspection. No deal has been struck. No nation, yet, has agreed to any tangible terms on coming to grips with Iran’s nuclear ambitions, although talks in Switzerland appear to be gaining ground.
The letter not only undercuts the president’s traditional authority to oversee the shaping of foreign policy but badly undermines America’s credibility in the international community.
It speaks to the toxic levels of partisanship in Washington that not a single Senate Democrat was willing to sign the poison pen letter, although more than a few are skeptical of Iran’s long-term intentions and are fearful of what it might portend for Israel — Iran’s blood enemy. But common sense dictates that the hard shape of a potential agreement be hammered out before Congress charges in. Such an outline is expected later this month, and a detailed document should be done by June. It may well be, as Israel has warned, that nothing can come from Iran but a devil’s deal — but now is surely not the time to decide.
The Obama administration is rightfully incensed by the Senate’s blundering campaign. Said Vice President Joe Biden: “In 36 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 constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.’’
It would be calamitous for America’s long-term policy goals in the Middle East if a workable Iran deal falls through solely because of mistrust sown by the president’s knee-jerk political foes.
• Dan Wasserman: The elephant in the room
• Michael A. Cohen: Iran deal-making is about the least worst option
• Editorial: Congress shouldn’t scuttle Iran nuclear talks with new sanctions
• Colin Nickerson: Can the US-Iran rift be healed?
• Michael Breen: Unilateral moves would derail Iran nuclear talks