The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday May 28th

Burr, Tillis among republicans who sent controversial letter to Iranian leaders

President Barack Obama’s administration has been looking to negotiate with Iran to reduce its nuclear capability in exchange for reducing economic sanctions on the country.

Burr said the letter was a manifestation of concerns with the progression of negotiations.

“Like most members of Congress, I have grave concerns with the deal that the president is negotiating with Iran, a sponsor of international terrorism that has threatened both the United States and Israel,” he said in a statement. “Signing the letter was an expression of those concerns.”

The letter, spearheaded by freshman U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, intends to explain the constitutional divisions of the U.S. government, “enriching” Iranian knowledge of the political system.

The senators emphasize the distinction between an executive agreement — only approved by Obama and Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and a ratified treaty that requires the support of two-thirds of senators.

Executive agreements, the senators contend, should not be considered binding.

“The next president could revoke an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time,” the letter said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to what he believes to be a propaganda ploy by the Republican senators, mimicking the language of their letter.

“I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law,” Zarif said in a press release.

Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said he worries for the international perception of such a partisan letter.

“America’s influence in the world depends on its ability to honor its commitments, and this letter was a partisan effort to score political points at the expense of America’s credibility and standing in the world,” Earnest said in a press conference.

A petition containing over 290,000 signatures has been submitted to the White House, calling for the 47 senators to be tried for treason under the Logan Act — a law passed in 1799 that prohibits unauthorized citizens from corresponding with foreign governments to influence their disputes with the U.S. The Obama administration is required to respond to the petition, as it crossed the 100,000 signature threshold within the 30-day period.

Stephen Vladeck, an American University law professor, said in a blog post that the vagueness of the law puts up too many obstacles to prosecute the U.S. senators, even if it were determined they were acting without authority. The last indictment under the Logan Act occurred in 1803.

“Maybe it was impolitic, undiplomatic, disrespectful or otherwise unseemly,” Jeremy Rabkin, a law professor at George Mason University said in an email. “But it was not binding anyone, not even promising anyone to do anything in the future.”


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