Kerry: 'Utter disbelief' at Iran letter

 
Kerry said his reaction was "utter disbelief" to the letter, which warned Iran that any deal it reaches with U.S. and international negotiators could be voided after President Obama leaves office. 
 
"No one is questioning anybody's right to dissent," Kerry said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. "But to write to the leaders in the middle of a negotiation, particularly the leaders they have criticized others for even engaging with ... is quite stunning." 
 
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The secretary of State was at the hearing to testify on an authorization for use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but ended up fielding questions on Iran as the administration races to meet a March 24 deadline for reaching the framework of an agreement.
 
The letter, led by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and signed by 46 other Republican senators, said "anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement." 
 
Without Congressional buy-in to the deal, it said, "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."
 
Kerry called the assertion that an executive agreement could be modified by Congress "flat wrong" since it would not be a "legally binding" plan. He said executive agreements are an important foreign policy tool. 
 
The letter ignores "200 years" of conduct of foreign policy and risks undermining the confidence of all foreign governments in committing to executive agreements, Kerry said. 
 
Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) called Kerry's answer "absolutely nonsense" and said as elected officials, they have the responsibility and the right to communicate with foreign officials. 
 
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said the open letter was really directed to the White House, since it has been ignoring Congress' calls to play a role in reviewing any final deal. 
 
The White House had issued veto threats for legislation that would impose sanctions on Iran if it walks away from talks or violates a future deal, and for legislation that would give Congress time to review a deal before its implementation. 
 
“I signed the letter to Iran [but] the message I was sending was to you,” Paul told Kerry. He also defended Congress' role in the negotiations, adding, "If this agreement in any way modifies legislative sanctions, it will have to be passed by Congress." 
 
Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) noted he did not sign the letter but that he was "disappointed" in Kerry's remarks that the deal would not have to "pass muster" with Congress. 
 
“I’m very disappointed, though, that you’ve gone back on your statement that any agreement must pass muster with Congress," said Corker, who has introduced the bill to give Congress 60 days to review the agreement before it is implemented. 
 
"I think all of us are very disappointed with the veto threat and the stiff-arming that has taken place," he said. 
 
-- Updated at 3:31 p.m.