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tv   Inside Story  Al Jazeera  March 12, 2015 2:00am-2:31am EDT

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then a camera in police cars and see it from their point of view. i'm ali, thanks for joining us. hello, with its invitation to israeli prime minister netanyahu to speak to congress about his opposition to negotiations with iran, republican leadership had already shown it's ready to jettison that idea that party politics already stopped at the water's edge. plus, reminding the ayatollas that congress gets to --
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it's the inside story. 47 sitting united states senators decided to kick their opposition to a deal with iran over nuclear proliferation up a notch as the deadline approaches for a conclusion to the talks between the five permanent members of the u.n. security council on one side and iran on the other. republican senators wrote directly to the iranian leadership in at the ran. the senators warned a deal with president obama may not last any longer than the better barack obama presidency which has about
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22 months to run. the one-page letter was written by arkansas senator addressed to the leaders of the islamic republic of iran. it says in part anything not approved by congress is a mere executive agreement. the next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future congresses could modify the terms of any agreement at any time. the letter concludes, we hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress. on capital hill today, secretary of state john kerry said his first reaction was utter disbelief. >> to write them and suggest that they're going to give a constitutional lesson which by the way was absolutely incorrect,
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is quite stunning. this letter ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of american foreign policy. we don't even have diplomatic relations with iran right now. and the senators' letter asserts that this is a legally-binding plan. it's not. that's number one. number two, it's incorrect. when it says that congress could actually modify the terms of an agreement at any time. that's flat wrong. >> the republican senators who signed the letter are taking heat from the administration but they're not backing down. >> i think all of us should be suspicious of an administration that is so intent on keeping the elected representatives of the american people out of this deal. you have to ask yourself why. why? and there's only one conclusion you could reach which is they intend to make a bad deal. >> the letter takes a shot at
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president obama's authority. that's not new for the republicans in congress but it's an escalation. we're going to try to understand the politics of this move during the program and the unprecedented nature of the action itself. but we want to start by digging into the negotiations with iran as the deadline to reach a deal approaches. joining me now is ambassador christopher hill. during the george w. bush administration he led the u.s. delegation to talks on north korea's nuclear program. welcome back to inside story. >> thank you very much. >> ambassador, coming this late in the game, just a few days really, a handful of days before the clock runs out on the negotiations, what happens inside the room? are they going to be very aware of a message like this? >> well, understanding that this is rather unprecedented or
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certainly the method by which the senate republicans expressed themselves, it is unprecedented. but what happens is you are getting toward the end of the deal, you're down to a few points. obviously any negotiator wants to get absolutely everything. but you end up compromising so when you end up having to compromise, it's going to cause a lot of people to be unhappy with it. so in some ways, this is a kind of typical situation where an opposition party is very much opposed to what you're doing. but i think what we're really seeing in this unprecedented action is the depth of the current divide that exists in washington, the incredible polarization of our political process. >> if you're on the iranian delegation, do you feel maybe this negotiating team doesn't have the full backing of the country. maybe i can hold out for more. maybe this shows that they're playing a weak hand.
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what does it mean? >> well, i think the iranian negotiators know well how washington works and how executive agreements work. they know this was never going to be a treaty that is a legally binding agreement requiring the consent of the elected body of the united states. so they've known that from the get go. but i think this sends a broader message to the iranian people and especially to iranian hard liners that there's really no point in talking to the u.s. because the u.s. is so divided. and i think that's why it's rather dilltarious. congress absolutely has a right to express its views to the administration and counsel the administration on which way to go and also to describe a sense of congress that is passing a nonbinding resolution to really tell the administration that they have concerns. but to send a letter to a foreign leader, i just haven't
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seen that before. >> just for the record did senators of any party send letters to the north korean dictator kim jong il. >> i don't recall any letters at this time. i certainly recall letters of support to the negotiators that would suggest that congress support what is we're trying to do. so i've never seen a letter of this kind. to be clear, there are many congressmen and senators who didn't like talking to north korea at all. it's a very difficult process and certainly our negotiators are feeling that very much as they go into the next stage of the negotiation
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s this is not un unusual -- so this is pretty much par for the course in terms of how you negotiate these things. the issue is the depth of division in washington and the fact that so many people have so fundamental misgivings about dealing with iran. so we're seeing this kind of bad blood really come
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out. he knows what -- certainly there are people in iran who are really scratching their heads as to what this really means and especially the point that an executive order can be undone by the next president. i've rarely seen a president undo an executive order of this kind but of course many executive orders are undone by the next president. so this may be a civics lesson to the iranians but i'm not sure they're going to easily learn this lesson. it's pretty complicated. >> as someone with significant experience in this area of diplomacy as you look at it significantly from the
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difference of denver to geneva, do you think that any deal is a bad deal as many have said? can we do business as a country with iran and come out with an agreement along with the p5 that sticks? >> any time you get into one of those diplomatic deals, basically you go in wanting everything and the other side goes in wanting everything and you end up reaching a compromise. but to ask the question is this deal a bad deal or you have to really answer the question, okay, well, what's the alternative alternative alternative. and there's a body of opinion and i share it that we've kind of taken sanctions about as far as we can take them. maybe there are a few more measures but it's unclear that we could really somehow get the iranian program to end by sanctions. so at the same time as we know the military options are not all that compelling, so inevitably, this administration, i think many administrations would see
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what can be done with negotiations. i think the real problem with this agreement is it doesn't have that nice kind of unconditional surrender element that americans are -- you know, like to hear about. it's going to be kind of a muddle really in the middle there and we're going to have to decide if whether that muddled middle is a better deal than not having any agreement. so that is the problem. >> christopher hill led the u.s. delegation through the negotiations with north korea over its nuclear program. he's now dean of the corbel school at the university of denver. thank you for joining us. >> my pleasure. >> we'll be back with more "inside story" after a quick break. when we return, a closer look at presidential power and congressional prerogatives as the nuclear negotiations between iran and the big nuclear powers enters the final stages. stay with us. it's inside story.
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it purports to tell the world that if you want to have any confidence in your dealings with america, they have to negotiate with 535 members of congress. that is both untrue and profoundly a bad suggestion to make i think. >> welcome back to inside story on al jazeera america. i'm ray suarez. that's secretary of state john kerry on capitol hill today talking about the open letter to the leaders of iran written by senator tom cotton of arkansas and signed by 46 other republican senators and signed by the senate majority letter. joining me now to continue the look at the letter and what such a gesture means in
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international negotiations, bruce gendleson, former senior advisor to the u.s. state department during the first obama administration and fred flight, formerly on the staff of the house intelligence committee during the george w. bush and obama administrations. regardless of its legality and there are many people throwing plenty of cold water on the idea that this was illegal to do, is it a good idea? >> it's good to be here. it's an excellent idea. this was an active leadership our elected representatives, senators can't do anything about this agreement because it's not a treaty. they see an agreement that this administration is cooking up that will be extremely destabilizing to the middle east, will pave the way to an iranian nuclear weapon and they're doing what they can to kill the negotiations, kill this deal, and force the
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administration and the european allies to start over with a more reasonable policy. i hope there will be more congress. >> aren't they bound to see what's in it first? >> that's a fake argument the obama administration is making. we know what's in the deal, ray. the "washington post" is a good example. there's going to be a large number of centrifuges, iran will continue to be able to enrich and work in a plutonium plant. >> does this in your view undercut the president? >> it totally undercuts the president. that was the intention. i think it's really senator cotton and his colleagues who should do a careful read of the constitution because jefferson and alexander hamilton and james madison intended for the
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congress to advise and consent in foreign policy within our political system. not to go out and directly deal with foreign leaders. that's the role of the chief executive and it's totally inappropriately politically and constitutionally. and moreover it's so clear that these republicans and this congress cares more about making sure barack obama doesn't succeed than they do in the national interest and security of the country. >> is this an irritation or something more serious than that? does this have the potential to scotch the whole deal? >> it does. if you're in there negotiating with the iranians and it makes it harder for them to make a deal for concern with their own politics politics about losing face. and it makes it harder to get there. and think of our allies, the british, the french, the germans, russians and chinese who are actually working on this. they say we're all working hard to get a common position and
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then you have this congress who really don't want any deal at all to be honest with you. i think it's not -- senator mcconnell said he's complaining they don't know the terms of the deal and my colleague doesn't like the terms so they don't even get their story straight. >> let me ask you this, whether there's any ambiguity in our national operating manual, the constitution, about who is in charge of foreign relations, our relations in the united states to other governments >> >> congress is a coequal branch of government, ray. when i hear them say this letter violates a diplomatic role, i don't remember the democrats saying that when nancy pelosi met with syrian president assad during the bush administration. i admit this is an unprecedented situation with this letter but the real unprecedented situation is the fact that the obama administration has struck an
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incredibly bad deal or are ready to that i think will lead to war in the middle east and a nuclear arms race. senators, members of the house did. >> are you comparing apples to apples though when you compare 47 members of the united states senate opening a separate channel to at the ran in the final days of a seven-nation multinational negotiation over nuclear proliferation with the visit of a senior member of the house of representatives to talk to one country with which we had diplomatic relations at the time? are they the same thing? >> i don't deny that this letter is unprecedented but it is in reaction to one of the worst foreign policies in american history that's conceding the bomb to iran and i think these senators were perfectly within their rights. they tried to get the details of this deal. they've been ignored. saudi arabia has been ignored. it was time to take a step to
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say to the iranians and the europeans that this deal is not going to stand. >> bruce, what do you think? >> first of all, if we're going to talk about the worst decision in the history of american foreign policy let's talk about the invasion of iraq in 2003. let's get our comparisons right. >> let's go to bush. that's completely irrelevant. >> it's not. it has to do with the credibility of the people claiming what you're claiming about the details of the deal that you haven't seen and who contributed -- >> everything is bush's fault. >> let him finish. >> i'm happy to move on. the fact of the matter is that was the worst decision in the history of american foreign policy. secondly, congress has a role to play in foreign policy. the notion of politics stopping at the water's edge is a myth. when you go out and engage with foreign leaders to go around the president and undermine the president, the supreme court has
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ruled on a number of occasions that the president is the chief executive of the united states and our representative in dealing with foreign countries. and this is absolutely wrong for the precedent it sets. it's true that it happened before. it happened with speaker jim wright. a democrat in the 1980s with nicaragua and i'm on record for saying at the time that, that was inappropriate. this is really an effort to make sure it doesn't succeed and the other side of it is if the negotiations fail and the united states gets the blame for this in the eyes of the rest of the world including our allies, the sanctions regime will fall apart and we'll have a greater risk of iran developing nuclear weapons. and i think what's really a hidden agenda here, not so hidden, is people really want a war with iran and that would be a huge mistake.
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i'll simply say that. >> we'll be back in a moment with more inside story. when we return, i'll ask my guests about the political calculation behind this latest gesture. what does the senate open letter say about the republicans and the president and dealing with the world in the next two years. and the presidential race likely to include several of the senators who signed that letter. that's still ahead on "inside story."
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we're back win side story on al jazeera america. i'm ray suarez. it's hard to believe especially as winter is loosening its grip that once it starts to get cold again, politicians will be trumping through the snow in iowa and new hampshire with an eye toward becoming the next president of the united states. that includes several members of
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the u.s. senate, members who signed the letter to the iranian leadership to warn them that the president of the united states does not have the last word in the country's foreign agreements. what's the political calculation here? to deny the president a win in foreign affairs, to weaken him over the next two years in his dealings with the rest of the world? our guests are still with me. fred, i guess that list would include if you believe what you read in the papers, rand paul of kentucky, marco rubio of florida, maybe lindsey graham of south carolina, are they going to apologize or run on their willingness to sign this letter? >> i think they're going to run on the letter. you know, i want a nuclear deal with iran. i think they do too. but we want a good deal that stops iran from getting a nuclear weapon. that gets rid of its heavy water plant and other things and i think that's the message they'll say on the campaign trail. >> do you really think that's in
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the cards, telling a country that it simply can't have any sentry centrifugeif it wants them? >> the only reason iran wants to operate the certain number of centrifuges -- we should not be playing this game with the iranians. they have to stop this enrichment program with them or they're not going to have a deal with them. >> observing diplomatic niceties is not something you do at a time like this when we're on the verge of increasing the amount of danger in the world by allowing iran to move ahead where a nuclear program. >> this is not about diplomatic niceties. it's about negotiating strategy that will get you to your objective. getting in the face of your opponent, they make good tag
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lines for certain republican candidates as they head out in the campaign but it's never been a good negotiating strategy. that's not how we got deals with the soviet union in the cold war and that's not how you get deals with iran. one of the few republicans to not sign the letter is senator corker of tennessee, the chairman of the senate foreign relations committee who's taking a responsible role who has some of these same concerns about the deal but understands the difference between playing a constructive role in the senate and playing a counterproductive self-serving role and i think he deserves credit for taking that position despite where most of his party is heading. >> wasn't there going to be senatorial oversight and debate on the deal? isn't that within the senate's power? >> absolutely. and there's plenty of things the senate can do. it's just like with the opening of diplomatic relations to cuba. the senate now will try to do things like not provide the funding for the new american
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embassy down there and there are plenty of mechanisms it has including those sanctions that were legislated by congress that can't be lifted without congressional action. so they're very much in the game but the notion that they're going to be at the negotiating table and again when this is not just a u.s. iran deal it involves france, germany, britain, russia, china, and somehow these guys want to get into that part of it. you know, it's so counterproductive and only about politics and that's really the way it should be seen. >> wouldn't all those senators including the ones who want to be running for president later this year have had their chance to take shots at this thing once it came state side after an agreement was reached? >> if there was a vote on the agreement by the u.s. congress this would not be happening. the administration desperately wants a deal. it knows it can't get it approved by congress. so it has formed an executive agreement that john kerry admitted today won't be legally binding. all this stuff about congress having a role in this is not true.
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congress is being cut out of this deal, a deal that would severely undermine national security and i think will cause a war in the middle east. >> in response to what bruce said, fred, do you assume that france, britain, and germany are being cavalier about the future of the middle east and israel as you would accuse the obama administration of being? >> this is a negotiation between the united states and iran. our european allies are trailing after us. they should be on notice too that the u.s. congress is not going to stand for this obama sellout. >> quick final comment. >> executive agreements have been used for over 90% of american commitments since the end of world war ii. this is not that unusual. and also this is not about trying to prevent iran to develop nuclear weapons and stability in the middle east. that's the goal. >> thanks for joining us and
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join us on the next "inside story". i'm ray suarez. >> on "america tonight": >> in the four years since fukushima, life has not been kind to the people who fled. do you believe that fukushima city will ever be a safe place to live again? >> translator: not in my lifetime. not the same fukushima that existed before. >> we ventured into towns inside and around the seclusion zone which remain frozen in time at the moment residents fled.

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