In an unusual move, 47 United States senators published an open letter yesterday that addresses Iranian officials and undermines U.S. President Barack Obama’s attempts to reach a deal on nuclear power with the country. The senators, led by freshman Senator Tom Cotton, oppose any kind of deal with the Iranian government. In their letter, the senators told Iran that Obama’s successor could renege on any agreement that's reached, or that Congress could simply vote down an agreement. The message was simple: Don’t believe this is going to work out for you.
The letter has drawn some strong opinions from ordinary folks in the U.S., where it's trending on Twitter with the label "47traitors." It’s also become top news in many of the countries invested in the Iranian negotiations. To get a sense of how it’s viewed around the world, Pacific Standard looked up the online editions of top U.S. and international newspapers.
U.S. publications have focused on the White House’s angry response, and the fact that all letter-signers are Republican, even though the nuclear talks have both Republican and Democratic critics. Outlets are split about how much muscle the letter’s threat really has. Politico writes, “Ultimately Capitol Hill’s support will be necessary for any deal Iran forges with diplomats,” while the New York Times reports, “A senior American official said the letter probably would not stop an agreement from being reached.”
The Tehran Times reproduces much of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif’s response to the letter in its top online story. Zarif’s statement includes lots of slams against the signing senators:
Zarif, who is a professor of international law, also said, ‘These senators must know that the U.S. is not equal to the entire world and that international relations is formulated based on international law and international commitments of governments and not based on the United States’ domestic laws.’
The chief Iranian diplomat added that the senators who have signed the letter may not be fully aware that according to international law governments must ‘live up to commitments’ with other countries and cannot renege on their commitments according to their domestic regulations.
That wording echoes the opening paragraph of the senators' letter, which says, “You may not fully understand our constitutional system.”
Like the 47 senators, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes Obama’s planned nuclear deal with Iran. In Israel, the Jerusalem Post published online to its front page a story that calls Obama a “lame duck” in the face of Congress. Haaretz, on the other hand, simply uses the U.S.-based Associated Press’ piece.
Other countries involved in the negotiations include China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.
Prominent Senate Democrats have accused their Republican rivals of wanting to start a war with Iran on Tuesday, a day after conservative senators penned an open letter to Tehran.
Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer said that the 47 signatories to the letter are trying to 'sabotage' talks between western powers and Iran. Boxer described the Republicans’ letter as 'bizarre, inappropriate' and a 'desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement' that she said is 'in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world.'
The online versions of the Moscow Times and Germany’s Der Spiegel do not report on the letter on their front page at all, nor does China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Although some U.S. outlets are talking about the feasibility of the letter's threats, it seems many international outlets are simply reproducing the letter's pointed comments and the equally pointed official replies. He-said-she-said reporting has rarely been so fun to read.