Sen. Tom Cotton called Iran’s foreign minister “cowardly" and challenged him Wednesday to a debate on the U.S. constitution.
The junior Republican from Arkansas — one of the main opponents to a nuclear deal being negotiated with Iran — dared Javad Zarif on Twitter to meet him in Washington "to debate Iran’s record of tyranny, treachery, & terror” after the foreign minister called Cotton out.
In remarks at New York University on Wednesday, Zarif appeared to imply that the senator had little sway over the outcome of a nuclear deal and if one is reached sanctions would be lifted by United Nations member states "whether Sen. Cotton likes it or not."
Cotton responded shortly after on Twitter, issuing the challenge but saying he would understand if the foreign minister declined because Zarif's decision to "hide" in the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war showed "cowardly character."
Zarif did not immediately respond to Cotton's comments.
President Barack Obama has been under sustained pressure from Republicans over the nuclear international deal, which seeks to limit Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for lowering crippling international sanctions. Tehran has long denied Western claims that it is trying to produce nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.
The Cotton-Zarif exchange came on the same day that Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz called Iran the single greatest threat to the U.S., adding that the country had directed "unmitigated hostility to America."
Earlier, the Senate rejected a Republican effort to tie sanctions relief for Iran to a requirement that Obama certify Tehran is not supporting acts of terrorism against Americans.
Talks between six major powers — including the U.S. — and Tehran are facing a June 30 deadline.
— F. Brinley Bruton and Frank Thorp V.
Reuters contributed to this report.