Home Politics Ohio’s own Rob Portman among the 47 Republicans who sent letter to Iran

Ohio’s own Rob Portman among the 47 Republicans who sent letter to Iran

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The United States-Iran relationship is one of mistrust. Iran still has not forgiven the United States for helping to topple former popular prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and propping up the dictator Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, and the U.S. is wary of Iran’s nuclear missile system, which it fears could be abused by the more extremist members of Iran’s government.

President Obama claimed progress was being made in Switzerland, where negotiations were ongoing to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. But Republicans, as they have done multiple times during Obama’s presidency, threw a wrench into the Commander-in-Chief’s plans.

That wrench took the form of a letter to Iran written by Sen.Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Cotton is a U.S. Army veteran who served one term in the House and has served as senator for just over two months. In the letter, Cotton said he wanted to “bring to [Iran’s] attention two features of our Constitution…which [Iran] should seriously consider as negotiations progress.” Cotton went on to point out that treaties must be ratified by Congress and that members of Congress stay in their positions much longer than the president does.

The letter was signed by 47 other Republican senators, including Ohio’s Rob Portman. It touched off a firestorm across the country, with some voicing support, others crying treason and the White House expressing outrage.

Unlike Sen. Tom Cotton, Sen. Rob Portman has experience with foreign policy. He served as a Trade Representative of the United States for the Bush administration from 2005 to 2007, where he negotiated trade agreements with over 30 countries. And the issue is something that Portman has tackled in Congress before. On February 24, Portman took to the Senate floor to speak about terrorism, Russia and Iran’s nuclear program. He echoed many of Obama’s critics by saying the negotiations are giving the Iranians an opportunity to continue work on nuclear weapons.

“Unfortunately, we know the biggest winner from this administration’s wavering support for Israel is Iran,” Portman said in his speech. “Iran continues to ask for more time, and the [Obama] administration continues to grant it.”

He also called for leadership within the federal government.

“This is no time for political games,” he continued. “It’s a dangerous world…It’s time for some leadership, both here in this chamber, and down the street at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.”

But critics would consider the letter to Iran a political game. Among them is Maria Fanis, associate professor of political science and international relations at Ohio University.

“The Republicans wrote this because of the polarized situation in Washington,” Fanis said. “This was more of a political maneuver on their part. They felt that they were being left out of being consulted or being told what was going on. It is a strategy to show discontent.”

Fanis suggested the letter indicated that Congress has little to no idea what exactly the details of Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations are, but she says it is also not uncommon for Congress to be left out of the loop.

“A treaty will eventually have to be recognized by Congress,” she said, echoing Cotton’s letter. “But right now, the president takes the lead.”

Portman didn’t return interview requests, but in a statement released last week, the senator from Cincinnati claimed that the letter could be used to strike a better deal.

“The letter and the congressional interest in playing a role in this extraordinarily important effort to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons can and should be used by the Obama administration as leverage to get a better agreement that actually achieves the outcome we all seek,” Portman said in the statement.

It remains to be seen whether the letter hurts or helps the negotiations — or the senators who signed it. Kerry is currently in Switzerland with representatives from France, China, Great Britain and Russia, all of whom are still pushing hard to reach an agreement before the end of March.

Publicly, Iran reacted to the letter with scorn. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called it a “propaganda ploy,” but Fanis believes that the letter will have little effect on negotiations.

“Iran is a country that knows very well how things work in the United States,” she said. “They are aware of the polarization in the government.”

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