Will GOP Senators’ Open Letter to Iran Derail Nuclear Deal?

Will GOP Senators’ Open Letter to Iran Derail Nuclear Deal?
U.S. President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One, Jan. 7, 2015 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza).

On Monday, 47 GOP senators published an open letter warning Iran’s leadership that any deal on Tehran’s nuclear program concluded solely on the basis of U.S. President Barack Obama’s executive authority would remain vulnerable to being reversed by future congressional and presidential action. While impolitic and a breach of the long-standing protocol that the White House is the primary American interlocutor with foreign governments, the letter starkly and bluntly lays out a series of constitutional and political arguments to make its case.

What impact will the letter have on the down-to-the-wire negotiations to reach a substantive political accord with Iran on the terms of a final deal before the upcoming March 29 deadline? Will it cause hardliners in the Iranian regime to assert their opposition and scuttle the talks? Will it force the Obama administration to involve congressional Republicans in the process? The answers to these questions will depend on three sets of Iranian calculations.

First of all, much of America’s Iran policy is now set in stone as statutory law, which means that it can only be overturned or altered by new legislation. The senatorial missive is the clearest signal yet that no changes will be contemplated as long as Congress remains in GOP hands. Like Cuban President Raul Castro, who also had to consider pursuing normalization of relations with the U.S. well aware that Obama could do very little to lift existing sanctions, the Iranians will have to decide whether the things Obama can do on his own authority are worth a deal. They may conclude that it is still worthwhile to proceed.

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