(CNSNews.com) – After President Obama said Monday GOP senators who signed a letter warning that any nuclear deal with Iran could be scrapped once he leaves office were making “common cause with the hardliners in Iran,” the senator behind the initiative hit back, “There are nothing but hardliners in Iran.”
“I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members of Congress wanting to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran,” Obama said of the letter. “It’s an unusual coalition.”
Forty-seven GOP senators signed an open letter informing the Iranian regime that they will consider any nuclear agreement that Congress does not approve “as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and [supreme leader] 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,” stated the letter, initiated by Sen. Tom Cotton, a freshman Republican from Arkansas.
Responding to Obama’s jibe about a coalition with “the hardliners in Iran,” Cotton said later, “There are nothing but hardliners in Iran, nothing but hardline Islamic extremists who’ve been killing Americans around the world for 35 years.”
“That’s why Iran cannot be allowed to get a nuclear weapon,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“If they’ve been the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism for 35 years, imagine what they will do if they have a nuclear umbrella.”
After mocking the Republican critics Obama, who was speaking alongside European Council president Donald Tusk at the White House, said, “I think what we’re going to focus on right now is actually seeing whether we can get a deal or not.”
“And once we do, then we’ll – if we do, then we’ll be able to make the case to the American people, and I’m confident we’ll be able to implement it.”
The White House and State Department poured scorn on the senators’ letter, as did senior Senate Democrats.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest called it “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.”
“The rush to war, or at least a rush to the military option, that many Republicans are advocating, is not at all in the best interests of the United States,” he said.
“When you have a letter that is signed by 47 senators of the same party being sent to the leader of another country, it raises I think some legitimate questions about the intent of those who signed the letter.”
“Congress doesn’t have the power to alter the terms of international arrangements negotiated by the executive,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a daily briefing. “The letter is incorrect when it says that Congress could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
While the Constitution gives the Senate advice and consent authority on international treaties, the administration says the agreement which it and its P5+1 partners – Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – are negotiating with Tehran will not have treaty status. Congressional action will be required to lift sanctions as part of any deal, however.
Senators leery about a proposed deal that could leave much of Iran’s infrastructure intact want the administration to seek congressional approval before an agreement is implemented. The White House has threatened to veto legislation to that effect, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed last week to hold off on it until after a late-March talks deadline.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused the letter signatories of trying to sabotage the negotiations, with “the sole goal of embarrassing the president.”
“The judgment of my Republican colleagues seems to be clouded by their abhorrence of President Obama,” he said, adding that the GOP senators were acting “purely out of spite.”
“Obviously Republicans don’t know how to do anything other than attempt these seemingly juvenile political attacks against the president.”
Reid also took a dig at Cotton’s junior status in the Senate.
“Today’s unprecedented letter, originated by a United States senator who took his oath of office merely 62 days ago, is the kind of pettiness that diminishes us as a country in the eyes of the world.”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) weighed in too.
“I can’t think of a precedent where you’ve had one political party in the United States Senate try to intervene in international negotiations,” he said. “If these negotiations fail, it’s pretty clear to me that one of the options on the horizon is military action against Iran.”