The principle of the separation of powers in the U.S. Constitution is coming under severe strain, in the few remaining weeks of the negotiations on Iran's nuclear program. Forty-seven out of 54 Republican senators have written an open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic – the Iranian embassy on Massachusetts Avenue having been vacant since 1979.
They have opened up a new diplomatic front in U.S.-Iranian relations, making no mention of their country's colleagues in the negotiations, the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council – Britain, France, Russia and China – and Germany, too.
The 47 Republican senators don't say in so many words that they are opposed to any and all possible agreements on nuclear matters between the P5 + 1 and Iran, much as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in his speech to Congress last week left open the possibility of a good deal, not just a bad one.
The open letter sounds like an attempt to abort any likely agreement. It points out that the next president of the United States – "for instance, President Obama will leave office in January 2017" – could cancel any nuclear agreement with "the stroke of a pen." The letter-writers also observe that senators, such as themselves, often stay in office much longer than presidents, "perhaps decades."
Tom Cotton, the junior senator from Arkansas, drafted the letter. He and his colleagues say that it is "not an overt intervention" in the negotiations, but something "akin to a statement."
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Corker of Tennessee, has been working hard to get the White House and the Democrats in Congress to vote for a consensus bill on an agreement – if one is reached. The waters have now been muddied.