Kerry denounces GOP letter to Iran leaders

Willie Grace | 3/11/2015, 4:54 p.m.
Kerry, who served for nearly three decades as a senator, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that he greeted ...
John Kerry

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday slammed a letter 47 Republican senators recently wrote to Iran's leaders.

Kerry, who served for nearly three decades as a senator, told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that he greeted the letter with "utter disbelief," calling it a breach of "more than two centuries of precedent" and factually incorrect.

"It purports to tell the world that if you want to have any confidence in your dealings with America, they have to negotiate with 535 members of Congress," Kerry said. "That is both untrue and a profoundly bad suggestion to make."

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut set Kerry up to address the letter, asking him to explain its impact, and Kerry took five minutes answering the question while glancing at what appeared to be prepared remarks.

As he wrapped up, Sen. Bob Corker, the committee chairman and author of legislation that would require Congress to approve any deal with Iran, cut Kerry off, ending what the senator called "a well-written speech."

"This is not a speech," Kerry insisted.

But Corker again cut in and said Congress must weigh in on any deal with Iran, saying that he was "very disappointed" with Kerry.

Sen. Tom Cotton, a freshman Republican from Arkansas, penned the letter to Iran's leaders, which asserted that a lasting agreement would need congressional support. Cotton wasn't shy about his attempts to undermine the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran and said Tuesday the letter is "about stopping Iran from getting a nuclear deal."

But Kerry insisted that Cotton's letter stemmed from the false premise that any agreement brokered with Iran would be legally binding, though the letter doesn't use that language.

"We're not negotiating a legally binding plan," Kerry said, pointing out that an eventual agreement would have the same power as the "thousands" of executive agreements between the U.S. and foreign countries that Congress has not approved.

Kerry said that the letter is "incorrect when it says that Congress could modify the terms of an agreement."

Sen. Jim Risch, a Republican who signed the letter, countered Kerry's statement.

"This indignation and breast-beating over this letter is absolute nonsense," he said.

Risch said the "problem we've got here is we have a real disagreement," adding that the deal should be considered a treaty, not an executive agreement. A treaty requires the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.

But he added, "I hope an agreement is reached. I really hope we get a good agreement."

Sen. Rand Paul also knocked Kerry and the Obama administration, asserting that he signed on to the letter to send a message to the White House -- a White House Paul asserted has repeatedly overstepped its authority with executive actions.

"The message I was sending was to you. The message was to President Obama that we want you to obey the law, we want you to understand the separation of powers," the Kentucky Republican said. "The letter was to Iran but it should have been CC'd to the White House."

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