Diplomats from seven countries negotiating a deal meant to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening economic sanctions are said to be near a deal. It could be announced as early as today. Even before the deal is made public or its details revealed, opposition to it is solidifying in Washington among conservative Republicans.
On Monday afternoon, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, who sits on both the Intelligence and Armed Services Committee, appeared on CNN to announce his pre-emptive opposition to a deal.
Cotton, who made headlines earlier this year by persuading dozens of his fellow Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to sign a letter to Iran’s leaders saying that a future Republican president would undo any agreement reached by the Obama administration, is a significant figure in the GOP ranks on this issue. On Monday, he remained adamantly opposed to the deal in whatever shape it may take.
CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked Cotton if he wanted to read it before reaching a final conclusion.
Cotton said it wasn’t necessary to know what is in the agreement to see that the “details are only going to show that it’s even worse than we had imagined.”
A former Army officer who served in Iraq, Cotton is among the significant percentage of Republicans who are offended by the idea of the United States sitting at the negotiating table with Iran. The Islamic Republic is considered the preeminent state sponsor of terrorism in the world by the U.S. State Department and even as it negotiates with the U.S. and its partners it is using dubious charges to hold U.S. citizens prisoner, including Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian.
The government’s leaders regularly encourage public rallies at which the call “Death to America” is the common refrain. Additionally, the country’s “supreme leader” has in recent weeks been regularly taking to social media to undercut the potential deal.
There is a realpolitik element to the Obama administration’s approach that leaves Cotton and others, already convinced that Iran is essentially an evil regime, opposed to rewarding any concessions short of total capitulation.
For example, one of the possible carrots being offered in the negotiation is the gradual unfreezing of Iranian assets held overseas and a timed relaxation of the embargo on selling conventional arms to Iran. To Cotton, that is unthinkable.
“Now there are reports that they’re going to get a signing bonus of tens of billions of dollars and that we might even lift the arms embargo,” he said. “At a time when they are still destabilizing the Middle East and still the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism.”
In the end, though, other than taking a strong rhetorical stance, there’s little that Cotton and other Republicans in Congress can do to block a deal. Earlier this year, Congress passed and the president signed a law giving lawmakers up to 60 days to review and vote on any deal the administration strikes with Iran. Congress, however, will only be able to express approval or disapproval and the president will have the ability to move forward by vetoing any resolution of disapproval.
How big a problem that is, if it’s a problem at all, won’t really be known until the deal is a matter of public record.