Iran's foreign minister Monday joined expressions of outrage by the White House and congressional Democrats over Senate Republicans' letter to the Tehran government about nuclear negotiations, telling NBC News "this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy."
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he was astonished that "some members of the U.S. Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own president and administration." He said the 47 senators who signed the letter "not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy."
Zarif's comments, which he made to NBC News in a written statement, echoed complaints from Democrats in and out of the White House, who called the letter an unconstitutional assault on presidential authority.
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President Barack Obama said at a briefing only that it was "somewhat ironic" to see Republicans "wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran.
But other Democrats used words like "petty," "bizarre" and "sabotage" to describe the letter, which warned Tehran that the next president could undo any nuclear agreement and that Congress could alter it.
Vice President Joe Biden recalled his six terms in the Senate in a statement Monday night, calling the letter "beneath the dignity of an institution I revere" because it "ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States."
Obama's spokesman, Josh Earnest, also said the senators didn't appear to have a fundamental grasp of "the role that our Founding Fathers envisioned for Congress to play when it comes to foreign policy."
"The fact is, people around the globe understand when they are doing business with the American president, they are doing business with the United States of America, not just that one person," Earnest said. "This is only the latest in an ongoing partisan strategy to undermine the president's ability to conduct foreign policy and to hurt national security around the globe."
"Let's be very clear," Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said in a floor speech. "Republicans are undermining our commander-in-chief while empowering the ayatollahs."
Reid said that even during the days of deepest disagreement over the war in Iraq, Democrats "never considered sending a letter to Saddam Hussein or other Iraqi leaders at the time. Never considered it. It would be an embarrassment to the commander-in-chief, George W. Bush."
The senator who organized the letter, Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas, was temporarily presiding over the Senate as Reid made his remarks.