Republicans’ letter to Iran is far from unprecedented

tags: Iran, GOP, Iran letter

Marc Thiessen writes a weekly column for The Post on foreign and domestic policy and contributes to the PostPartisan blog. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Thiessen served as a chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and before that as a senior aide to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms.

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The Obama administration has excoriated Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and 46 other Republicans for writing to Iran’s leaders informing them of the Senate’s constitutional role in approving international agreements. Vice President Joe Biden went so far as to declare that “In 36 years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country — much less a longtime foreign adversary — that the president does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them.”

Really? Biden has an awfully short memory.

In June 2000, when Biden was ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Bill Clinton set off for Moscow to negotiate a new arms control treaty with Vladimir Putin that would have limited the United States’ ability to build defenses against ballistic missile attack. The morning the talks were scheduled to begin, the president was greeted by on op-ed on the front page of Izvestia by committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). “After dragging his feet on missile defense for nearly eight years, Mr. Clinton now fervently hopes that he will be permitted, in his final months in office, to tie the hands of the next President,” Helms wrote. “Well I, for one, have a message for the President: Not on my watch. Let’s be clear, to avoid any misunderstandings: Any modified ABM treaty negotiated by this administration will be dead-on-arrival at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. . . . The Russian government should not be under any illusion whatsoever that any commitments made by this lame-duck Administration, will be binding on the next administration.”

The message was received in Moscow. There was no new arms control deal.

Biden also surely remembers how in 1998, when the Clinton administration was negotiating a U.N. treaty to create an International Criminal Court, Helms did more than send a letter expressing his opposition — he sent his aides to Rome to join the negotiations and make his opposition clear. I was a member of that team. Meeting with the United Nations delegates (with Biden’s aides present), we delivered a clear message from the chairman: Any treaty Clinton negotiated that did not give the U.S. a veto over the ICC in the Security Council was “dead on arrival” in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, unlike the Obama administration, the Clinton team smartly tried to use Helms’s opposition as leverage to negotiate more protections for Americans. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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