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GOP Senators Remind Iran That Nuclear Deal Needs Their Backing


Forty-seven Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iranian leaders yesterday. That letter reminded Tehran that when President Obama leaves office, any nuclear deal he reaches with them might not survive unless Congress buys into it now. Democrats reacted strongly, with Vice President Joe Biden saying the letter undermines the authority of the president in the midst of sensitive international talks. Here's NPR's Ailsa Chang.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The letter reads like a civics lesson. You may not fully understand our constitutional system, it says to the ayatollah and senior Iranian leaders. Senate Republicans then explain President Obama will leave office in 2017, while they could be around for decades. So Iran needs their blessing for any lasting deal. But of course many Republicans who signed the letter don't want to bless any deals with Iran anyway. Here's Richard Shelby of Alabama.

SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY: I don't believe the Iranian government will ever strike a deal to materially slow down or eliminate their ability to have nuclear bombs.

CHANG: Meanwhile, Democrats blasted the letter as an insult to the president.


SENATOR HARRY REID: It's unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president of the United States.

CHANG: Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said his party would have never interfered like this.


REID: Even at the height of our disagreements with President George W. Bush, Senate Democrats never considered sending a letter to Saddam Hussein or other Iraqi leaders at the time, never considered that.

CHANG: It's not just that the letter was condescending, Democrats say; it was meant to derail negotiations. Although Iran's foreign minister quickly dismissed the letter as propaganda, Obama noted it played right into the hands of those Iranian leaders who oppose any negotiations with the U.S.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think 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.

CHANG: Just how unprecedented a letter like this was is a matter of debate. Some Republicans say they were just airing their views. Here's John McCain of Arizona.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Letters go out from Congress all the time. And as important as they are, I'm not sure that the ayatollahs will be surprised to hear that Republican senators want to have the advice and consent role.

CHANG: Seven Republicans did not sign the letter. Richard Nephew says maybe that's because they understand something about foreign policy their colleagues do not. He's a former member of the negotiating team with Iran.

RICHARD NEPHEW: Having watched this as a civil servant working for both the Bush administration and for the Obama administration, the idea that a sitting group of senators of either party would write to the other side of negotiations, saying, nah, don't sign a deal with these guys - (laughter) to me, it really smacks of a misplaced understanding of how the international system's supposed to work.

CHANG: There is bipartisan support for a bill that would allow Congress to approve any deal. But the Senate won't take that up until after the March 24 deadline for a framework agreement. Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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