Small World: Not exactly a Billet Doux

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Forty-seven Republican senators, unhappy with the prospect that the Obama administration and its five international partners may sign an agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful purposes, wrote a letter of warning addressed to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The legislators declared, “any agreement without legislative approval could be reversed by the next president ‘with the stroke of a pen.’”

This virtually unprecedented initiative raises several practical, legal and, for the Senate, wonderful new horizons of irritating but remunerative activity.

First, note the artful address line — the “leaders” of the IRI. The senators wouldn’t want to be caught sending a note — even an unfriendly one — to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. True, he makes all the important decisions, but writing to him would be legitimating him — like joining in a “Death to America” chant. On the other hand, they could post the envelope to President Rouhani, who, albeit freely elected, clearly ranks only in second place and is (ugh!) a cleric to boot. Probably the senators wanted to make sure the word got around by including as addressees all the “leaders” of the Parliament, Friday Prayers, Revolutionary Guards and bazaar merchants. But pity the poor postman who has to deliver the envelope! He could well be stoned if he dropped it off at the wrong address.

If he yields to a “Return to Sender” stamp, the envelope would certainly go directly to the initiative organizer, freshman Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas who benefited from $1 million in advertising support from the Emergency Committee for Israel (a militaristic neo-con bunch). For that kind of money, they ought to be able to afford postage for every conceivable “leader of Iran.”

Legally, the senators might ask themselves (or Iran’s foreign minister who has a Ph.D. from the University of Denver in international affairs) whether their initiative violates the Logan Act. That is a 1799 statue that forbids unauthorized citizens from negotiating with foreign governments. The most urgent question is whether there would be cell space in the Washington jail for 47 new offenders.

If, however, the senators are ruled not to be lawbreakers, they might pick up and run with this judicial fumble. For example:

  • A letter to the “leaders” of Canada, England, etc. could warn them that if they don’t terminate their embarrassingly cheaper and highly effective socialized medicine schemes, the U.S. will deny visas to snow birds and other tourists.
  • French leaders might be warned that if they don’t shut down their extramarital dating Internet sites — which are quite offensive to the Republican conservative base — American wives will be prohibited from vacationing in Paris.
  • A freshly elected Republican president, dutiful senators promise, will restore all sanctions and inconveniences inflicted on Cuba before normal relations were established by Obama. Future exceptions for refugee status would only be made for Cubans who contribute and promise to vote Republican or, alternatively, make significant donations to the Senate cigar repository.

Plus there will be other epistolary devilry that we outsiders can hardly imagine…

Before ending this study, let’s think abut how the 47-signature letter might be received in Tehran. We have already seen the reaction of Foreign Minister Zariv who, as a kindly, but no-nonsense scholar, mildly scolded the Republicans for their ignorance of international law. An executive agreement, once entered into, cannot be canceled by “the stroke of a pen,” he instructed. Further, senators must consider the position of the five other international participants in the agreement as well as the U.N. Security Council.

In the old days, the U.S. used to send Peace Corps volunteers to Iran to teach them the English language and other technical skills. Now with more U.S.-granted Ph.Ds. in the Iranian than the American cabinet, perhaps the older civilization might dispatch a contingent of teachers of governance skills to Capitol Hill.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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