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Obama Deputy Warns Senate Against Undermining Iran Nuclear Talks

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Obama Deputy Warns Senate Against Undermining Iran Nuclear Talks

Denis McDonough addresses the U.S. Islamic World Forum on May 30, 2012. (U.S.-Islamic World Forum/Flickr)

By Toluse Olorunnipa, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON –– The Obama administration moved to curb further interference with negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear program, asking a U.S. senator to keep Congress on the sidelines until a deal is done.

In a letter sent Saturday to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, President Barack Obama’s chief of staff advised holding off on legislation that would grant lawmakers a more prominent role in the U.S.-Iran deal-making process.

“The legislation would likely have a profoundly negative impact on the ongoing negotiations,” Denis McDonough wrote. “This would complicate the possibility of achieving a peaceful resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue if legislative action is taken before a deal is completed.”

The rare attempt by lawmakers to put themselves in the middle of diplomatic negotiations boiled over last week when 47 congressional Republicans sent an open letter to Iran warning it against cutting a deal with diplomats from the U.S. and five other world powers aimed at keeping Iran from making nuclear weapons. Corker, who didn’t sign the letter, co-sponsored a proposal to give Congress the final say on any deal, accusing Obama of trying to sidestep the legislative branch.

Obama would veto the bill if it passes, McDonough said.

“The administration’s request to the Congress is simple: let us complete the negotiations before the Congress acts on legislation,” he wrote.

Corker said Congress should be able to take a vote on the deal before it is final.

“On this issue where Congress has played such a vital role, I believe it is very important that Congress appropriately weigh in before any final agreement is implemented,” he said in a statement responding to McDonough’s letter.

Corker, a Tennessee Republican, said he has picked up support from Democrats for his bill and has sought to preserve a veto-proof majority.

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, one of the Democratic co- sponsors of the bill, defended it Sunday during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“All our bill does is sets up the process under which Congress reviews a deal,” he said. “This is a very bipartisan and deliberative approach to looking at something that is fundamentally about our nation’s security interests, and if they’re going to unwind congressional sanctions, Congress is going to be involved.”

Democrats supporting the proposal have vowed to wait until after the March 24 deadline for the talks before voting on it. Republicans have tried to advance the bill for a vote before the deadline.

In his letter, McDonough included assurances that Congress will have an opportunity to weigh in on the deal.

“We agree that Congress will have a role to play — and will have to take a vote — as part of any comprehensive deal,” he wrote. “As we have repeatedly said, even if a deal is reached, only Congress can terminate the existing Iran statutory sanctions.”

McDonough said Corker’s bill “would potentially prevent any deal from succeeding” by undermining U.S. negotiators and “emboldening Iranian hard-liners.” Part of the bill, which would restrict Obama’s ability to lift some sanctions on Iran, would make securing an agreement more difficult and alienate the U.S. from its international negotiating partners, he said.
Clea Benson in Washington contributed to this report.

Photo: Denis McDonough addresses the U.S. Islamic World Forum on May 30, 2012. (U.S.-Islamic World Forum/Flickr)



  1. Dominick Vila March 16, 2015

    The letter sent to the Iranian Ayatollahs and Mullahs by 47 Republican Senators, encouraging them not to trust an incumbent U.S. President, and promising to render any agreement signed by President Obama null and void, does a lot more than undermine ongoing talks. The real consequence of what the IDIOTS did is that it undermined the authority and stature of the Office of the Presidency, not only for President Obama, but for all future presidents. It undermines our credibility as an international negotiator, and it tells the world that we are a nation politically divided and willing to commit treason to attack a political opponent.
    The intent and consequences of that letter goes far beyond what peacemakers have done in the past, when they tried to prevent war or the slaughter of civilians, like Jane Fonda did in Vietnam. This was a deliberate act of treason that cannot be ignored. Those responsible for it must be investigated, charged, tried, and sentenced. As a minimum, they should be removed from office and banned from ever holding public office again.

    1. The lucky one March 16, 2015

      No one should ever trust an American president. History has proven that over and over but every thing else you said is accurate IMHO.

    2. itsfun March 16, 2015

      Should Kerry and Nancy be investigated, charged, tried and sentenced for doing much the same thing?

      1. jmprint March 16, 2015

        So how did they interfere with the President’s negotiations?
        An why are you defending these traitor idiots?

      2. Dominick Vila March 16, 2015

        When did John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi write a letter to terrorists encouraging them not to trust a POTUS and informing them that if the U.S. President signed an agreement with them, our alleged enemies, they would not ratify it?

        1. itsfun March 16, 2015

          Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger hammered John Kerry in 1985 for interfering in diplomatic negotiations with Nicaragua’s Marxist government as a Massachusetts senator.

          Thirty years later, Kerry is skewering Senate Republicans for their
          open letter to the Iranian leadership warning that any nuclear deal with
          the United States without the advice and consent of the U.S. Congress
          would not last beyond President Obama’s term.

          Kerry and then-Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin visited Nicaragua
          in 1985 to cut a deal with the Sandinista government, which was close
          to the former Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan, however, was
          already set on overthrowing the Marxist government in Nicaragua by
          sending aid to a group of Nicaraguan rebels — the contras.

          “The Sandinista government would agree to a cease-fire and restore
          civil liberties if the US government ceased its support of the contras,”
          the Boston Globe reported.

          “If the United States is serious about peace, this is a great opportunity,” Kerry said at the time.

          Kissinger, though, hit back at Kerry on the CBS Sunday program “Face
          the Nation,” calling him a congressman rather than a senator.

          “With all due respect to Rep. Kerry, he’s a congressman,” Kissinger
          said. “He’s not secretary of state, and if the Nicaraguans want to make
          an offer, they ought to make it in diplomatic channels. We can’t be
          negotiating with our own congressman and the Nicaraguans simultaneously.
          My own view is that what we want from the Nicaraguans is the removal of
          foreign military and intelligence advisers.”

          According to the Globe, Kerry responded that he was only applying the
          lessons he learned in Vietnam to Reagan’s actions in Central America.

          Kerry, now secretary of state, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday and was asked by Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy how he reacted to the letter.

          “My reaction to the letter was utter disbelief,” Kerry said. “During
          my 29 years here in the Senate I never heard of nor even heard of it
          being proposed anything comparable to this. If I had, I can tell you, no
          matter what the issue and no matter who was president, I would’ve
          certainly rejected it.”

          “No one is questioning anybody’s right to dissent,” he continued.
          “Any senator can go to the floor any day and raise any of the questions
          that were raised. You write to the leaders in the middle of a
          negotiation — particularly the leaders that they have criticized other
          people for even engaging with or writing to — to write then and suggest
          they were going to give a constitutional lesson, which by the way was
          absolutely incorrect, is quite stunning. This letter ignores more than
          two centuries of precedent in the conduct of American foreign policy.”

          1. Dominick Vila March 16, 2015

            The difference is that Nicaragua was not an enemy of the United States. Our quarrels with them were ideological, and part of the paranoia that consumed our foreign policy in the days of the Cold War. Most importantly, neither Kerry nor Harkin told the Sandinistas not to trust President Nixon, and that any deal reached between tricky Dick and them would not be ratified by Congress. Comparing efforts to avert open warfare, with a deliberate attempt to defuse a major concern, with an, alleged, enemy of the USA, that happens to be a major player in Persian Gulf politics is a bit of hyperbole, mixed with desperation.
            In any case, saying we did something reprehensible because others did similar things is not an excuse for those who engaged in an act that can be easily interpreted as high treason.

          2. itsfun March 16, 2015

            Now I understand: If a Republican does something you don’t like it is treason, but its okay if a Democrat does almost the same thing.

          3. Dominick Vila March 16, 2015

            None of the examples you mentioned come even close to what the GOP Senators did. Republican and Democratic Senators and Congressmen have participated in peacekeeping efforts, fact finding missions, and as Envoys. There is nothing wrong with that.

            Mention one example of Democrats declaring another country a hub of terrorism, and then sending them a letter encouraging not to trust a U.S. President, and telling them that if that President signs an Agreement with them Congress will not ratify it, and the next President will repeal it, and I am willing to consider your point. Until then, the 47 GOP Senators are traitors. Bear in mind that some of them already admitted they made a major faux pas.

        2. itsfun March 16, 2015

          U.S. House Speaker Nancy
          Pelosi met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday for talks
          criticized by the White House as undermining American efforts to isolate
          the hard-line Arab country.

          Pelosi said Assad assured her of his willingness to engage in peace
          talks with Israel, and that she and other members of her congressional
          delegation raised their concern about militants crossing from Syria into
          Iraq, as well the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by the Lebanese militant
          group Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas.

          The Californian Democrat spoke to reporters shortly after talks with Assad at the end of a two-day visit to Syria.

          She said the delegation gave the Syrian leader a message from Israeli
          Prime Minister Ehud Olmert whose essence was that Israel was ready to
          hold peace talks with Syria.

          She did not say more about the message, but Israel has previously
          made such talks conditional on Syria’s cutting off its support for
          hard-line Palestinian groups and Hezbollah.

          “We were very pleased with the assurances we received from the
          president that he was ready to resume the peace process. He’s ready to
          engage in negotiations for peace with Israel,” Pelosi said.

          Pelosi and accompanying members of Congress began their day by
          holding separate talks with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Vice
          President Farouk al-Sharaa and then met Assad, who hosted them for lunch
          after their talks.
          Pelosi’s visit to Syria was the latest challenge to the White House
          by congressional Democrats, who are taking a more assertive role in
          influencing policy in the Middle East and the Iraq war.

          Bush voices criticism

          Bush has said Pelosi’s trip signals that the Assad government is
          part of the international mainstream when it is not. The United States
          says Syria allows Iraqi Sunni insurgents to operate from its territory,
          backs the Hezbollah and Hamas militant groups and is trying to
          destabilize the Lebanese government. Syria denies the allegations.

          “A lot of people have gone to see President Assad … and yet we
          haven’t seen action. He hasn’t responded,” he told reporters soon after
          she arrived in Damascus on Tuesday. “Sending delegations doesn’t work.
          It’s simply been counterproductive.”

          Pelosi did not comment on Bush’s remarks but went for a stroll in the
          Old City district of Damascus, where she mingled with Syrians in a

          Wearing a flowered head scarf and a black abaya robe, Pelosi visited
          the 8th-century Omayyad Mosque. She made the sign of the cross in front
          of an elaborate tomb which is said to contain the head of John the
          Baptist. About 10 percent of Syria’s 18 million people are Christian.

          At the nearby outdoor Bazouriyeh market, Syrians crowded around,
          offering her dried figs and nuts and chatting with her. She bought some
          coconut sweets and looked at jewelry and carpets.

          On Tuesday night, Pelosi met Syrian human rights activists,
          businessmen and religious leaders at the U.S. ambassador’s residence.

          ‘Better late than never’

          Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem was quoted Wednesday as
          saying that Pelosi and other members of Congress were “welcome” in

          “Better late than never,” he told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anba in an
          interview. He said the visits were taking place because Americans and
          Europeans had realized that their policy of trying to isolate Syria had

          However, the Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, was
          quoted as saying Syria was “wary of the sudden U.S. openness” and would
          respond cautiously.

          “Syria will not hurriedly offer concessions when it refused to offer
          them under much greater pressure from the United States in the past,” he
          said in an interview with the Al-Baath newspaper, the mouthpiece of the
          ruling party.

          “Syria will take a step forward every time the Americans take one,” he added.
          Toward U.S. engagement with Syria?

          Democrats have argued that the United States should engage its top
          rivals in the Mideast — Iran and Syria — to make headway in easing
          crises in Iraq, Lebanon and the Israeli-Arab peace process. Last year,
          the bipartisan Iraq Study Group recommended talks with the two

          Bush rejected the recommendations. But in February, the United States
          joined a gathering of regional diplomats in Baghdad that included Iran
          and Syria for talks on Iraq.

          Visiting neighboring Lebanon on Monday, Pelosi noted that Republican
          lawmakers had met Assad on Sunday without comment from the Bush

          She said she hoped to rebuild lost confidence between Washington and Damascus.

          ‘No illusions’

          “We have no illusions but we have great hope,” said Pelosi, who met
          with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of
          Ramallah earlier Tuesday.

          Relations between the United States and Syria reached a low point in
          early 2005 when Washington withdrew its ambassador to Damascus to
          protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik
          Hariri. Many Lebanese blamed Syria — which had troops in Lebanon at the
          time — for the assassination. Damascus denied involvement.

          Washington has since succeeded in largely isolating Damascus, with
          its European and Arab allies shunning Assad. The last high-ranking U.S.
          official to visit Syria was then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard
          Armitage in January 2005.

          The isolation, however, has begun to crumble in recent months, with visits by U.S. lawmakers and some European officials.

          1. Dominick Vila March 16, 2015

            Envoys, and congressional teams, have participated in fact finding and peace negotiations on behalf of the U.S. government for decades. Again, what the 47 Republican Senators did has nothing to do with peace negotiations, or fact finding missions. They betrayed the USA, undermined the effectiveness of the Office of the Presidency, and damaged the credibility of the United States by demonstrating hatred and contempt towards an incumbent U.S. President, by showing that members of Congress are willing to side with our, alleged enemies (terrorists), if that is what it takes to punish a man they hate, and they highlighted that we are not a nation united, and that the efforts being made by our allies to solve the Iranian nuclear development crisis is irrelevant.
            Citing efforts by U.S. politicians to find solutions to an ongoing Civil War, and to end past examples of global instability may work in a Tea Party meeting. I doubt it will get you very far in this forum.

    3. jamesowens March 16, 2015

      well said and so true

    4. nanc35 March 16, 2015

      Very well said. Cotton’s action is so obvious. He will do anything, even commit treason, to bully his way to the limelight. Such a pathetic man.

  2. itsfun March 16, 2015

    These talks with Iran have already started a nuclear arms race with Saudi Arabia and South Korea reaching a nuclear agreement. Giving Iran nuclear weapons will just make every country in the east decide they must have nuclear weapons too.

    1. jmprint March 16, 2015

      Yep it all started with the Iran talks, no other country would have ever thought about this before.

  3. Wedge Shot March 16, 2015

    Republicans will do anything they can to usurp the powers of the Executive Branch and the President. They have way stepped over the line.
    Only the President of the United States can negotiate with foreign powers.
    Charge the Republicans with violating the Logan Act and let the Judicial Branch sort it out.

  4. Whatmeworry March 16, 2015

    Where was Dennis when Barak was breaking US laws on immigration, bankruptcy, funding terrorists, or selling his books to USAID???

    1. Daniel Max Ketter March 16, 2015

      I don’t think donating books is a crime. I donate my my popular mechanics and playgirls to the financially challenged.

  5. Whatmeworry March 16, 2015

    Where was Dennis when Barack was obeying US laws on immigration, bankruptcy, funding terrorists, or donating his books to USAID???

  6. Jon Kahr March 16, 2015

    If one thing is clear, it’s that we now have a rogue executive branch.

  7. Eleanore Whitaker March 18, 2015

    Joh Kahr….We all have had just about enough of your hater boys and your tantrums. Bush is NOT the president. So, you slash and burn, shock and awe and MY WAY or the Highway BS is gone as far as it can go.

    John Kerry stated it best last week: When McConnell set Cotton up to put the kaboshes to the Iran negotiations, he set Congressional protocol excluding the president in the Senate GOP and House GOP actions back 235+ years.

    Do you little spoiled brats ever grow the hell up? Or do you just think we will all just be your Pavlovian dogs you can train to suit your power drunk back room agenda?

  8. rustacus21 March 18, 2015

    … so what’s wrong w/simply recommending treason charges against a ‘faction’ of misfits who don’t understand the Constitution, Democracy & have only reinforced it all the more, w/this crazy, treasonous move serving no useful purpose than irritating a President they hate because of his… race?! Not his politics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foreign_policy_of_the_Bill_Clinton_administration), as the ONLY OTHER time in recent history, we were able to convince nuclear nations to restrict the manufacture & spread of nuclear weapons – SUCCESSFULLY – meaning that more nations embraced OUR same concerns, of non-proliferation. Do Republicans really understand what they’re doing – pushing Iran AWAY from the negotiating table, encouraging greater RESISTANCE to our desire that they LIMIT nuclear weapons production? This is destructive, crazy & dangerous to the ENTIRE internationally community – ESPECIALLY our ALLY ISRAEL – all b/c they (Republican conservatives) HATE… our – THEIR PRESIDENT?! B/c of his race?! Lets stop mincing words & trying to fool ourselves. This is racism – against the President, the Iranians & potentially against the Israeli’s, by placing them in such grave danger, if these PEACE NEGOTIATION FAIL!!! What’s wrong w/people? That they don’t see this for what it REALLY IS?!?! This is criminal & it’s about time someone say the words!!! TREASON, which – according to the Constitution, IS a HIGH CRIME, deserving of removal from office… if anyone has the moral COURAGE!!!!!!!

  9. dpaano March 31, 2015

    Perhaps the Congress needs to read this….it’s basic Civics 101:
    “The key element missing from the GOP Senators’ letter,
    however, is that the deal is not being negotiated between Iran and the United
    States; it is being negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 group, in which the
    U.S. is joined by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Even if the U.S.
    is the key player in that group, the deal being pursued reflects an
    international consensus — the same consensus that has made sanctions against
    Iran so effective.

    This was likely in the mind of Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, who dismissed the letter as “of no legal value” and a “propaganda ploy.” Zarif noted that the deal would indeed be an international agreement adopted by the U.N. Security Council, which a new administration would be obliged to uphold — and that any attempt by the White
    House or Congress to abrogate, unilaterally modify, or impede such an agreement
    would be a breach of U.S. obligations.”
    Therefore, the Congress has NOTHING to do with the results of the negotiations…..it’s ratification belongs to the U.N. and the Security Council.


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