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Iran's Leaders 'Clearly' Got Senators' Message, Cotton Says

Tuesday, 17 Mar 2015 10:54 AM

(Updates with Cruz comments starting in eighth paragraph.)

(Bloomberg) -- Iranian leaders “clearly have the message now” from a letter 47 Senate Republicans wrote warning that a future U.S. Congress could reverse any nuclear deal, the chief author said Tuesday.

President Barack Obama considers the Republican-led Congress to be a “nuisance,” said freshman Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, as he defended the letter following criticism from U.S. allies and lawmakers including some fellow Republicans.

“This president views Congress as an afterthought,” Cotton said at a breakfast with Bloomberg reporters and editors in Washington. “Iran’s leaders clearly have the message now, and I think it was important they got the message.”

Cotton said he “absolutely” stands by the decision to address the March 9 letter to Iran’s leaders. White House officials and Democratic lawmakers have accused Cotton and his colleagues who signed the letter of undermining the administration’s efforts to forge an agreement with Iran in the nuclear talks ahead of a March 24 deadline.

“That’s because they know the offer is indefensible,” Cotton, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former U.S. Army lieutenant, said of the Democratic criticism. He accused the administration of being unable to defend “the very bad deal that they’re about to make.”

At least two Republicans who signed the letter -- John McCain of Arizona and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin -- said last week that they would have approached the matter differently in retrospect.

‘Tactical Error’

Johnson said it may have been “a tactical error” to address the letter to Iranian leaders, rather than to Obama’s administration or the American people. McCain, a prominent Republican voice on foreign affairs and national security, said an impending snowstorm in Washington short-circuited more measured consideration of the letter.

Others defended the letter. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, said Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC that he would sign the letter again “in large print, so that the ayatollah wouldn’t need his reading glasses.”

The missive has escalated political rancor in Washington surrounding the Iran negotiations, complicating Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker’s efforts to cobble together enough Democratic votes for a measure requiring congressional review of any Iran nuclear deal to overcome an Obama veto.

Corker Legislation

Republicans hold 54 seats in the Senate and 10 Democrats have said they’ll support Corker’s measure, though only after the end-of-the-month deadline passes for the round of negotiations among the U.S., five other world powers and Iran. That would be three votes short of the number needed to override a veto.

Corker was one of seven Senate Republicans who didn’t sign the letter.

The Iranian delegation to nuclear talks in Lausanne, Switzerland, raised concerns on Sunday and again with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday about the letter, according to a U.S. official, who declined to detail what was said and spoke on condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocol.

Direct Negotiations

More than two-thirds of Americans -- 69 percent -- support direct negotiations with Iran to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons, while just 32 percent said they thought the letter hurt U.S. efforts to reach a deal, according to a CNN/ORC poll conducted March 13-15. More than half -- 62 percent -- said the Republicans’ letter either had no impact or helped the talks.

If the negotiations fail to yield an agreement, Cotton said the potential use of military force to delay Iran’s nuclear must be a credible option and “not just words the president mouths.”

“But that would not be the first option,” he said, adding that his first option would be tougher sanctions and confronting Iranian influence regionally.

Asked if he thinks the U.S. possessed the military capability to slow or derail an Iranian nuclear weapons program, Cotton said he is monitoring the issue.

“It’s something that I watch very closely,” Cotton said. “Broadly speaking, not just about the United States but our allies, if the question is ‘can we eliminate or at least significantly set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program,’ the answer is it is possible.”

--With assistance from Laura Curtis and Tony Capaccio in Washington and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan in Lausanne, Switzerland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kathleen Hunter in Washington at khunter9@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodi Schneider at jschneider50@bloomberg.net Laurie Asseo

© Copyright 2017 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

   
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