Government

Portman Defends GOP Letter to Iran; Democrats Condemn

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the junior senator from Ohio, defended the letter he and 46 other Republican senators sent to Iran this week, arguing that the letter could strengthen President Obama’s hand in negotiations to contain that country’s ability to make nuclear weapons.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and former Gov. Ted Strickland, expected to challenge Portman next year, today joined the chorus of Democrats and in the press who criticize the Republican senator from Ohio for signing the March 9 letter.

In the letter, 47 senators – all Republicans — write that while the president, under the Constitution, negotiates international agreements, “Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them.” The letter reminds the Iranian government that while presidents are elected to a maximum of two four-year terms, senators can serve an unlimited number of six-year terms.

“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,” the letter states.

In a statement issued by his press office, Portman says, “This notion that the 47 Republicans who signed the letter want to blow up the agreement is simply incorrect. In fact, it’s just the opposite for me.”

“I want an agreement that will stand the test of time, and that’s what we’re working for,” he continued. “I believe the letter and the congressional interest in playing a role in this extraordinarily important effort to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons can and should be used by the Obama Administration as leverage to get a better agreement that actually achieves the outcome we all seek.”

Democrats from the White House on down have blasted the GOP senators for their letter. In a statement issued by his office, Vice President Joe Biden, who served in the Senate 36 years, said the letter was “expressly designed to undercut a sitting president in the midst of sensitive international negotiations.”

Written “in the guise of a constitutional lesson,” the letter “ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability” of future presidents, whether Democratic or Republican, “to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States,” Biden said.

On a midday conference call to discuss a bill to crack down on tax identity theft, Brown responded to reporters’ questions about the letter. He characterized it as “misguided” and said it sabotages the ongoing negotiations.

“I was pretty astounded when I saw it. … I was just flabbergasted that 47 members of the Senate would sign a letter” to Iran informing government officials of something they already knew, how the U.S. government works, “basically tying to sabotage the negotiations,” he added. “I don’t understand why anyone signed that letter.”

Strickland, the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Portman, denounced him and his 46 colleagues for trying to undermine U.S. diplomacy and Middle East peace efforts. Portman “should be embarrassed for irresponsibly attempting to sabotage our country’s negotiations with Iran,” Strickland said. He “owes Ohioans an apology” for playing politics with national security.

“Portman’s reckless political stunt makes America less safe. That’s why a number of Republican Senators chose not to participate, and I stand with them in putting good policy over political games,” Strickland declared.

The senators who organized and signed the letter “have undermined the security and stability of our nation in their reckless attempt to weaken President Obama personally,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, in a statement his office emailed the press. “They undermined not only the current administration but the office of the presidency and with it, our nation as a whole.

“If these Republican Senators disagree with the ongoing talks between the U.S. and Iran, they are free to pass a law overturning the final deal, which the president can veto,” Ryan said. “What Congress must not do — and indeed must never do — is attempt to speak to foreign nations in place of the president. We should instead afford President Obama the opportunity to complete these delicate, multilateral talks. Our nation’s power and security depend on it.”

In an editorial today, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, joining other press outlets, criticized the 47 senators’ action, including that of the “usually rational” Portman and Arizona’s John McCain, in signing the “patronizing open letter” to Iranian leaders. The Republicans chose McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, as their standard bearer against Obama in 2008.

“It is in the United States’ interest to negotiate the toughest possible deal that can put the brakes on Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons with full, intrusive inspections and controls on its near-weapons-grade fuel stocks,” the editorial states. “That aim is undercut by the March 9 letter basically telling the ayatollahs not to bother to negotiate.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.