Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif delivered a dramatic warning to Republican critics of the White House’s attempts to negotiate a nuclear deal with his country in a discussion at New York University on Wednesday.
Several of the GOP’s 2016 presidential candidates and many members of Congress have criticised the Obama administration’s efforts to reach a deal with Iran. Specifically, opponents of the nuclear talks have suggested potential deals would not go far enough in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and attacked President Barack Obama for attempting to reach an agreement without sufficient congressional approval.
In light of these comments from critics, particularly the 2016 Republican hopefuls, Business Insider submitted a question to Zarif asking whether his government is concerned the next president could take a harder line with his country than Obama has. When our question was asked by moderator David Ignatius, the Iranian foreign minister responded by suggesting there would be serious consequences for the US if leaders renege on an agreement reached by the Obama administration.
He warned such a situation could lead to “chaos.”
“I believe the United States will risk isolating itself in the world if there is an agreement [and] it decides to break it,” Zarif said. “I don’t think anybody will find that decision by the United States acceptable.”
Zarif said “international law” would require future administrations to abide by the terms of any deal Obama reaches.
“I think the United States, whether you will have a Democratic president or whether you have a Republican president, is bound by international law …. and international law requires the United States to live up by the terms of an agreement,” Zarif said.
Last month, 47 Republican senators including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who are all running for president, sent an open letter to the Iranian government. In that message, the senators noted Obama does not plan on submitting any deal with Iran as a treaty to Congress. Because of this, they warned the next president “could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”
At NYU, Zarif argued many of America’s international agreements were executive agreements brokered solely under the president’s authority. Zarif also took a shot at Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), who was the lead signatory of the open letter and has been one of the more outspoken critics of the nuclear negotiations.
“I think the United States, whether you will have a Democratic president or whether you have a Republican president, is bound by international law …. and international law requires the United States to live up by the terms of an agreement,” Zarif said, adding, “You know that, maybe Sen. Cotton doesn’t, but you know that 90% of US overseas agreements are executive agreements.”
As examples, Zarif cited the US status of forces agreements in Iraq, the 1981 Algiers accord that resolved the Iranian hostage crisis, and “the agreement you have in Afghanistan.”
“From 1933 onwards you have executive agreements that have stood the test of decades, various administrations, even a change in global environments,” Zarif said, later adding, “All sorts of stuff has happened in the world and you had executive agreements which haven’t changed and which have continued to operate. … None of them have been ratified by US Congress and they stand.”
Zarif concluded with a warning to members of Congress and potential future US presidents. He said changing the terms of a deal reached by Obama could call the legitimacy of these other executive agreements into question and lead to “chaos” on the world stage.
“If the US Senate wants to send a message to the rest of the world that all of these agreements … 90% of international agreements are invalid, then you will have chaos in your bilateral relationships,” Zarif said. “You’re welcome to do it, but I don’t think that would be something that even the most radical elements in Congress want.”
Armin Rosen contributed to this report.
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