It’s not every day that U.S. senators pressure the leaders of a hostile power to abandon American-led negotiations aimed at removing a potential nuclear threat to the United States.
But, so it goes. Indeed, 47 Republican senators signed a letter last week warning the Iranian government that any deal it reaches with President Barack Obama may be null and void once he leaves office in less than two years.
“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. “We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.”
Bingo! That is exactly what’s going on—negotiations. However, is that what the 47 Republican signatories really want?
When asked for an alternative deal on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” organizer of the letter, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., suggested that “Iran can simply disarm their nuclear weapons program and allow complete intrusive inspections.”
MSNBC’s hosts pressed Cotton on the idea of complete disarmament, arguing that Iran would never agree to those terms.
“I think we have to have a credible threat of military force on the table, but the real alternative … to a bad deal is a better deal,” Cotton said. “With more sanctions, with confronting Iran, with only giving them the choice that would completely disarm their nuclear weapons.”
That sounds pretty un-negotiable, especially considering that Iran’s ideal agreement would allow the state to “produce nuclear energy for power and purposes” while simultaneously putting an “end to sanctions that keep it from shipping oil or gaining access to global finance,” according to an explanatory piece produced by The New York Times.
And it is naïve to think that Iran will submit with increased sanctions, the same tactic that has bound its economy since 1979. Thirty-six years later, the U.S. government is still negotiating a deal with Iran’s leaders while Iran’s people bear the costs of ineffective U.S. policy. According to the United Nations, over 500,000 Iranian children under the age of five died as a result of the sanctions between 1990 and 2000. Additionally, a dramatic depreciation of Iran’s rial has made the cost of living skyrocket with basic commodities too expensive for many.
Regardless, the premise of negotiations is to make concessions—albeit as few as possible—to reach an agreement that both parties accept. Winner-take-all just won’t cut it in a negotiation process that has lasted more than 40 years, and history tells us that the result of this hardline mentality will be no deal at all.
During President Bill Clinton’s arms control negotiations with Russia in 2000, a similar fiasco unfolded when Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms penned an op-ed appearing on front page of Izvestia. Helms, an outspoken conservative, wrote, “The Russian government should not be under any illusion whatsoever that any commitments made by this lame-duck Administration will be binding on the next administration.” The message was received in Moscow, and no arms control deal was reached.
Two years earlier, Helms interjected when the Clinton administration was negotiating a U.N. treaty to create the International Criminal Court. This time, Helms did more than send a letter—he sent aides to the negotiations. They argued that any treaty Clinton negotiated that did not give the U.S. a veto over the ICC in the Security Council was “dead on arrival” in the Senate. And today, the U.S. is one of 17 U.N. members who have not ratified the ICC among states like China, Iraq, Pakistan, Ukraine and Kuwait.
However, should nuclear negotiations with Iran dissolve similarly, as a result of the Republican open-letter, the U.S. and the other five nations involved—Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany—will not be content allowing Iran’s nuclear program to advance.
The 47 Republican signatories will not be content, either. They will rally behind this position with picket signs calling upon Cotton’s “credible threat of military force,” and only then will it be possible to say which is the more unacceptable path: compromise or war.
A version of this post was submitted as part of an assignment for a J404: Interpretation of Contemporary Affairs course with Professor James Baughman.