(AA) – President Barack Obama said Monday that Senate Republicans’ letter to Iranian leadership about nuclear talks is “ironic” as it puts the signatories in the same camp as hardliners in Iran.
“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,” Obama said speaking after a meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk.
A group of 47 Republican senators said in the letter that any nuclear deal between the U.S. administration, along with world powers, and Tehran, could be reversed.
The letter stressed that Obama will leave office in January 2017, but the senators will stay in office “well beyond then, perhaps decades.”
“I think what we’re going to focus on right now is actually seeing whether we’re going to get a deal or not. Once we do, if we do, we’ll be able to make the case to the American people, and I’m confident we’ll be able to implement it,” said Obama.
Senate Democratic leaders also reacted strongly to letter.
Minority leader Harry Reid said the letter to Iranian leadership was “a hard slap in the face” of the U.S. and the world.
“Republicans are undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs,” Reid said. “Republicans don’t know how to do anything other than juvenile political attacks against the president.”
Reid said that throughout the eight years of the George W. Bush’s presidency, even at the height of disagreements during the Iraqi War of 2003, Senate Democrats never considered sending a letter to Saddam Hussein.
“It would have been an embarrassment to the commander-in-chief, George W. Bush,” he said.
Senate Assistant Democratic leader Dick Durbin called the letter “a cynical effort” noting that it would weaken the U.S.’s hand in nuclear talks and highlight political divisions in the country to the rest of the world.
“These Republican senators should think twice about whether their political stunt is worth the threat of another war in the Middle East,” he said in a statement.
The ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, also joined Democratic leaders and issued a statement saying she was “appalled” by letter.
“This is a highly inappropriate and unprecedented incursion into the president’s prerogative to conduct foreign affairs and is not befitting this chamber,” she said. “This letter only serves one purpose—to destroy an ongoing negotiation to reach a diplomatic agreement in its closing days.”
The letter was an attempt to subvert the administration’s negotiating power and push an alternative agenda, said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
“I would describe this letter as the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy and advance our national security interests around the globe.”
Earnest also accused Republicans, particularly the letter’s principal author, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, of setting goals to undermine negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.
Republicans have no alternative other than a military option, he said. “The fact is, this Republican track record of putting military options ahead of diplomatic options has a long and rather sordid history.”
Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, agreed with Earnest, and said the letter was “designed to score political points.”
There are several inaccuracies in the letter about how things work in the U.S., she said, adding that the Iranians are well aware how the American system works.
The U.S. Constitution provides that the president is responsible for international negotiations and finding agreements with foreign leaders and countries. Congress, however, has to ratify any agreement, otherwise it is an executive agreement.
“Congress doesn’t have the power to alter the terms of international arrangements negotiated by the executive. That letter is incorrect when it says that Congress could modify the terms of the agreement at any time,” Psaki told reporters.
Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries –the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany — have until the end of March to reach a political framework about Iran’s nuclear program. A final deadline is set for July 1.
The deal sought by the six-nation group would have Iran accept limits on its uranium enrichment capacity and allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct inspections without interference.