Ohio's Rob Portman is among the 47 Republican U.S. Senators who signed an unprecedented letter to Iran this week.
Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and others in his party say they are flabbergasted. ML Schultze of member station WKSU in Kent reports.
The open letter was signed by all but seven Republican senators and warned Iranian leaders that if they reach a deal over nuclear arms with the Obama administration, the next president or Congress could quickly undo it.
The White House called it reckless and unprecedented; some others called it treason.
Ohio’s Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown says he would never apply such a term. But he says he also never would have considered taking such an action – even when he was voting against the Iraq War that President George W. Bush was promoting.
“I don’t understand what their thinking was except they don’t much like the president. I didn’t much like President Bush’s foreign policy but I never did anything like this and would never have considered writing a letter to Saddam Hussein or anybody else to undercut what President Bush was trying to do.”
But in an interview, Sen. Portman – who served in the administrations of both Bush White Houses – rejected that parallel.
“I think the better analogy might be, let’s say the Bush administration was negotiating with Saddam Hussein and Democrats sent a letter saying ‘Hey, this better be a real agreement.’ In other words, ‘You better make some concessions Saddam or else it’s not going to pass muster.’”
Portman says Congress has been useful in getting the Iranians to negotiate in the first place.
“Sometimes you actually use Congress to get a better deal including frankly the Congressional sanctions that were put in place that helped get the Iranians to the table in the first place. … They wouldn’t even be talking if it wasn’t for the sanctions that were imposed, and Congress insisted on that. In this case, again, we’re just making it very clear to the Iranians that it has to be a strong agreement because it has be one that can withstand the test of time.”
But Democratic Sen. Brown notes that sanctions – until now – have been a bipartisan issue.
“You simply don’t sign a letter to the Ayatollah, to a government you’re negotiating with, that we consider a country we’ve not recognized for years, a country we’ve been at odds with for 30 years, a country that has sponsored terrorism around the world, you simply don’t send a letter to them to undermine negotiations.”
Brown would not say if he’s had private conversations with Portman or any of the signatories to the letter. The deal the U.S. is trying to negotiate would limit Iran’s ability to enrich uranium.