Senate's Letter To Iran Complicates Nuclear Negotiations As they try to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, the White House says it does want Congress to have a role — just not now. So, could Republican interference scuttle the whole thing?
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Senate's Letter To Iran Complicates Nuclear Negotiations

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Senate's Letter To Iran Complicates Nuclear Negotiations

Senate's Letter To Iran Complicates Nuclear Negotiations

Senate's Letter To Iran Complicates Nuclear Negotiations

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/392142472/392142473" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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As they try to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, the White House says it does want Congress to have a role — just not now. So, could Republican interference scuttle the whole thing?

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

As nuclear negotiations with Iran reach a crunch point, there are some new players hovering around the bargaining table - Senate Republicans. Forty-seven Senate Republicans signed an open letter to Iran this week. That letter warned that any deal they haven't signed-off on may not last very long. Top Senate Democrats denounced the move as reckless and an effort to undermine President Obama's bargaining position. In a few minutes, one of the GOP Senators who wouldn't sign that letter, but first, here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is defending the letter he wrote, which was co-signed by 46 other Republicans. Cotton told MSNBC any agreement to relax sanctions on Iran in exchange for a freeze in its nuclear program will need Senate approval if it's going to stick.

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SENATOR TOM COTTON: The point we're making to Iran's leaders is that if Congress doesn't approve a deal, Congress won't accept a deal, now or in the future.

HORSLEY: White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the administration always imagined Congress would play a role in lifting sanctions against Iran, eventually. But, he says, that approval might not be needed for years after a nuclear deal is struck.

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JOSH EARNEST: We want to see a demonstrated commitment on Iran's part to living up to the agreement before we contemplate offering relief from the statutory sanctions regime that Congress has put in place. And I'm not just talking about over the course of weeks or months, I'm talking about years.

HORSLEY: The GOP letter warns Iran the next American president could undo a nuclear agreement in less than two years. But Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution says in practice, U.S. policy towards Iran has stayed remarkably consistent, no matter which party controls the White House.

SUZANNE MALONEY: The overwhelming likelihood is that if we have a deal and it appears to be working and the Iranians appear to be upholding their end of the bargain, that a Republican president would be just as likely to continue to enforce its provisions.

HORSLEY: Maloney says that's why Senator Cotton and his colleagues seem determined to prevent the administration from striking a deal with Iran in the first place.

MALONEY: All of this is aimed at trying to scuttle the deal rather than trying to undo it once it's done. It's much more difficult, both logistically and I think politically, for the Congress to appear to be unraveling a signed commitment on the part of the United States.

HORSLEY: The Republicans went public with their letter just one week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress urging lawmakers to reject what he called a bad deal with Iran. The White House says neither Netanyahu nor its Republican critics have suggested an alternative that would do more to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Obama says his opponents now include an unusual coalition of Senate Republicans and Iranian hardliners. But the president insists he's not giving up.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think what we're going to focus on right now is actually seeing whether we can get a deal or not. And once we do, then we'll - if we do - then we'll be able to make the case to the American people. And I'm confident we'll be able to implement it.

HORSLEY: If, on the other hand, talks fail, Obama argues it's important that Iran and not the U.S. be seen as the party that walked away. Maloney says the Republican's letter doesn't help on that score.

MALONEY: The blame game matters intensely and I think the Iranians have been playing that for quite some time. If the deal is in fact scuttled, it really won't be Washington's fault, but the perception may yet exist and this letter will play into that perception.

HORSLEY: And that makes it less likely other countries will maintain tough international sanctions against Iran. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

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