Who Controls US Foreign Policy: Congress or the President?
An open letter to Iran by 47 Republican members of theUnited States Senate released Monday started a heateddebate this week. The question was: Who controlsforeign policy -- Congress or the president?
The letter warned Iran that any deal over its disputednuclear program with the Obama administration couldbe overturned. It said that the next U.S. president “couldrevoke such an executive agreement” and “futureCongresses could modify the terms of the agreementat any time.” Without congressional approval, the lettersaid, the agreement would be only an executiveagreement.
Lawmakers signing the letter included all but seven of the Republican Party’s 54-member majority in the U.S.Senate. They noted that President Barack Obama wasleaving office in less than two years, as required by theConstitution. Many of them, they said, might still be inoffice for many years.
Historically, presidents and Congress have argued overtheir constitutional powers to control foreign policy.Thomas Fleming is a historian who writes aboutAmerican history. He says America’s first president had a strong opinion on the responsibility of the executivebranch in foreign policy.
“Washington’s presidency was the strong presidentpersonified. He was barely in the chair of thepresidency more than a few days and he wrote a letterto all the nations of Europe saying ‘if you want to communicate with the UnitedStates of America, write a letter to me, George Washington, not to theCongress.’”
President Obama criticized the letter to Iran on Monday. A spokesman for the president, Josh Earnest, told reporters the letter was an attempt to slow down the sensitive negotiations. The U.S. and five other world powers are trying to reach a basic agreement with Iran. The goal is to persuade Iran to give up its program to develop nuclear weapons in return for easing of international sanctions.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was one of the lawmakers to sign the letter. He defended it, saying he did not know whythe administration wanted to keep Congress out of the emerging deal withIran. He said it was clear that the president did not want Congress to have apart in a deal that could have a big effect on U.S. national security.
The letter brought strong reactions from former and current diplomaticofficials. Democrat Hillary Clinton has served as both a U.S. senator and a U.S. secretary of state. She said the letter was out of step with the besttraditions of the Senate.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that the letter left himin “disbelief.”
“This risks undermining the confidence that foreign governments in thousandsof important agreements commit to between the United States and othercountries. And it purports to tell the world that if you want to have anyconfidence in your dealings with America they have to negotiate with 535members of Congress.”
Not all Republican Senators agreed with the letter. Earlier in the week, SenateForeign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker did not think the letterwould help to get a bill that would require Congress to advise on a possiblenuclear deal with Iran and possibly lifting sanctions at an appropriate time. And Senator Susan Collins of Maine told VOA that she did not think the letterwas the right thing to do.
Iranian officials also responded to the letter. Iran’s supreme leader, AyatollahAli Khamenei said the move showed “disintegration” in U.S. politics. IranianForeign Minister and chief negotiator Mohammed Javad Zarif dismissed theletter, saying it was of “no legal value.”
Talks are set to restart on Sunday. Negotiators are seeking to complete thebasic deal by the end of March, with final agreement by the end of June.
Whether the U.S. can reach a nuclear agreement with Iran, one thing is clear. The U.S. Constitution states that the President of the United States “shall havePower, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties.”
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA Congressional Correspondent Cindy Saine reported this story. MarioRitter wrote it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words In the News
modify – adj. to change some parts of (something) while not changing other parts
sensitive – adj. needing to be handled in a careful or secret way in order to protect someone or something
emerging – adj. newly created or noticed and growing in strength or popularity
sanctions – n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country or by not allowing economic aid for that country
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