Government

Portman Says Iran Letter Provides Administration Leverage

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — U.S. Sen. Rob Portman is standing firm on his position that the letter he and 46 other Republican senators sent to leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran this week can strengthen the Obama administration’s position in negotiations over its nuclear program.

“I signed it because I think it helps get the right kind of agreement by letting the Iranians know that Congress is going to play a role here, and Congress has always been tougher than the administration on sanctions in order to get the Iranians to the table, and frankly that’s all that’s worked,” Portman, R-Ohio, told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

The letter has drawn fire from Democrats and even some Republicans for undermining the negotiations. The White House has called it “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

The letter, drafted by freshman Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas, outlines the role Congress will play in any deal reached with Iran and the differences in the terms served by the president and members of Congress. “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.

“I’ve participated in every effort there is to try to strengthen the administration’s hand and end up with a stronger, verifiable agreement with the Iranians, and to me this letter should be used as leverage to get a better outcome,” Portman said.

During the call, Portman shared how he similarly used such leverage as U.S. trade representative during the administration of President George W. Bush.

“We had some tough negotiations with countries around the world,” he recalled. In those negotiations, he was often able to say the agreements being discussed would not withstand scrutiny back home unless they were stronger.

The letter and its signatories subsequently have come under fire from Democrats from the White House on down as well as dozens newspapers, which have characterized the letter as “reckless” and “misguided.”

Democrats criticizing the letter include former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickand, who wants to unseat Portman next year. Strickland’s opposition comes as no surprise, since Strickland and the Center for American Progress, where he worked prior to stepping down to launch his Senate bid, both oppose legislation that would reimpose sanctions on Iran if no agreement results from the talks.

Other critics include Portman’s colleague, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who said he didn’t understand the thinking of the 47 GOP senators other than they didn’t like President Obama.

“This has nothing to do with the president. It has to do with Iran,” Portman responded. The substance of the letter, which he reviewed carefully, is accurate, he said.

“The bigger issue is it makes clear that Congress will play a role in any agreement and I think that is appropriate,” he continued. He credited sanctions insisted on by Congress with getting the Iranians to the bargaining table in the first place.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.