47 senators write Iran. Iran responds. It’s like pen-pals around here.

In what may be a historical first forty-seven sitting U.S. senators sent a letter to the leadership of a country in the midst of peace-talks being led by a current U.S. administration. I cannot remember the last time the House or Senate wrote an open letter to anyone about anything.

Here’s the text:

An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:

It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system.  Thus, we are writing to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution — the power to make binding international agreements and the different character of federal offices — which you should seriously consider as negotiations progress.

 

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.

 

Second, the offices of our Constitution have different characteristics.

 

For example, the president may serve only two 4-year terms, whereas senators may serve an unlimited number of 6-year terms.  As applied today, for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then — perhaps decades.

 

What these two constitutional provisions mean is that 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 Khamenei.  The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.

 

We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Tom Cotton, R-AR
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-UT
Senator Charles Grassley, R-IA
Senator Mitch McConnell, R-KY
Senator Richard Shelby, R-AL
Senator John McCain, R-AZ
Senator James Inhofe, R-OK
Senator Pat Roberts, R-KS
Senator Jeff Sessions, R-AL
Senator Michael Enzi, R-WY
Senator Michael Crapo, R-ID
Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC
Senator John Cornyn, R-TX
Senator Richard Burr, R-NC
Senator John Thune, R-SD
Senator Johnny Isakson, R-GA
Senator David Vitter, R-LA
Senator John A. Barrasso, R-WY
Senator Roger Wicker, R-MS
Senator Jim Risch, R-ID
Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL
Senator Roy Blunt, R-MO
Senator Jerry Moran, R-KS
Senator Rob Portman, R-OH
Senator John Boozman, R-AR
Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA
Senator John Hoeven, R-ND
Senator Marco Rubio, R-FL
Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI
Senator Rand Paul, R-KY
Senator Mike Lee, R-UT
Senator Kelly Ayotte, R-NH
Senator Dean Heller, R-NV
Senator Tim Scott, R-SC
Senator Ted Cruz, R-TX
Senator Deb Fischer, R-NE
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV
Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA
Senator Cory Gardner, R-CO
Senator James Lankford, R-OK
Senator Steve Daines, R-MT
Senator Mike Rounds, R-SD
Senator David Perdue, R-GA
Senator Thom Tillis, R-NC
Senator Joni Ernst, R-IA
Senator Ben Sasse, R-NE
Senator Dan Sullivan, R-AK

I’m not certain as to whether these senators expected a response from their new pen-pals, but Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, wasted no time. From the website of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

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.

 

Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration. He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.

 

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.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.

 

He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

 

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.

 

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

 

He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.

 

Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”

I do not know how this will all shake out, but this bunch seems a rather unlikely set of pen-pals, all things considered. Be on the lookout for a ninja-esque John McCain looking to set things straight.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.