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March 11, 2015

Senate Republicans send controversial letter to Iran

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Members of Congress sent a letter to Iran in the midst of negotiations over nuclear arms, in an unusual move that could complicate international relations.

The letter, signed by 47 Republican senators, states that the president’s nuclear deal with Iran would be ineffective in the long term unless it was approved by Congress. Democratic leaders denounced the letter, which they said undermined the authority of the president to negotiate foreign policy.

“This letter 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,” Vice President Joe Biden said.

The U.S. and other nations are currently negotiating a deal with Iran that would limit its ability to produce nuclear weapons. The group wants a greater number of inspections, a limit on the number of nuclear centrifuges in Iran and the removal of much of its existing uranium.

Republicans said they signed the letter out of concern that the U.S. would negotiate a bad executive agreement, which would increase the risk of Iran getting nuclear weapons.

Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota defended the letter as an accurate reflection of the division of powers. “Nobody is coming out and saying that the letter is factually wrong,” he said.

But presidential powers allow Obama to negotiate executive agreements, and Congress has the ability to weigh in on the agreement once it is complete, argued Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “What the Republicans are doing here is trying to undermine the negotiations, trying to stop them in their tracks before a final product is even completed,” he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized the letter, saying it showed a lack of understanding of both international law and the U.S. Constitution.


Warm up questions
  1. What does the term “foreign policy” refer to?
  2. What are the differences between the Presidency, the Congress and the Supreme Court?
  3. Which part of the government is responsible for international treaties?
Critical thinking questions
  1. Why do you think Republican senators signed this letter, and what goals were they trying to accomplish?
  2. How could this letter affect the ongoing negotiations with Iran?
  3. How do you think other nations (that are not involved in the nuclear talks) perceive this disagreement between the executive and legislative branches?
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