The Infamous Letter to Iran

By Harry Catalani ‘17:

Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas

Senator Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas

Recent talks on Iran’s nuclear capabilities between President Barack Obama and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran have caused controversies for the president’s administration domestically and abroad. First, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the United States Congress earlier this month was protested by a notable number of Democratic congressmen who skipped the speech. These congressmen believed that the speech was authorized without the president’s consent and also that it undermined negotiations between the United States and Iran, negotiations that Netanyahu opposes. However, a recent letter by a Republican senator may prove to be the most significant controversy that has occurred since these talks have begun.

In an open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) along with 46 other Republican signatories, asserts that the talks between the two countries will be irrelevant. Widely believed to have been written in a condescending tone, the letter also points out that because treaties are ratified by the Senate, any decision reached upon is not guaranteed to pass due to the current Republican control of the Senate. Technically, Cotton is incorrect in his constitutional reading as formal descriptions of powers actually state that the Senate “gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification.” But regardless, the implications caused by this letter could potentially derail the talks. The Iranian Foreign Minister has said that the letter is propaganda by congressional Republicans and will be ignored in order to have talks progress. With a subject as sensitive as Iranian nuclear capabilities, it is unclear how significant of an impact this letter will have and whether a deal will be made.

It is important to note that seven Republican senators declined to sign Cotton’s letter, most notably Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Each senator had differing reasons for not signing the letter, but all ultimately most believed it was too large a breach in protocol. This letter also represents a divide between Senate Republicans who last November gained the majority and may provide a glimpse into the strength of the coalition between Republican senators. This is a partisan issue that will most likely deepen the divide between Democrats and Republicans and reduce the productivity of a congress that promised to be more productive.

As a freshman senator who has now caused massive controversy and has been widely reported on in the national media over the past few days, Cotton is being compared to Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the senator who infamously led the government shutdown in 2013. Whether or not Cotton shapes his senatorial career after Cruz remains to be seen, but by authoring a letter that could potential derail international nuclear peace talks, he is off to a good start.


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