At an event at New York University, Zarif addressed a dispute over exactly when sanctions would be lifted under a negotiated final nuclear deal.
(The White House says the measures will be suspended only “after the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps.” Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says they must be lifted immediately the final deal is signed.)
Within a few days of an agreement being concluded, Zarif told his interviewer – Washington Post columnist David Ignatius – the U.N. Security Council will pass a resolution endorsing the deal, terminating all previous resolutions, including sanctions resolutions, and setting in place the lifting of all U.S. and European Union sanctions.
That resolution, he said, “will be mandatory for all member-states, whether Senator Cotton likes it or not.”
Amid laughter, Zarif added, “I couldn’t avoid that,” to which Ignatius said, “I’m tempted to say you’ll pay for that, but you already know that.”
Zarif went on to say, “we don’t want to get bogged down into the domestic procedures of the United States,” and asserted that the agreement was being negotiated with President Obama.
“I’ve studied and lived in the U.S. I know enough about the U.S. Constitution and U.S. procedures, but as a foreign government I only deal with U.S. government. I do not deal with U.S. Congress, I do not deal with U.S. Supreme Court.”
Zarif said it would be Obama’s responsibility to stop implementing all of the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran “by executive order [and] by congressional decision.”
“However he does it, that’s his problem.”
Zarif’s dig at Cotton referred to a controversial open letter, spearheaded by the senator and signed by 46 GOP colleagues, informing Iran’s leaders that they will consider any nuclear agreement that is not approved by Congress to be “nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei.”
On Wednesday Cotton took to Twitter to hit back at the comments:
“Hey @JZarif, I hear you called me out today,” he tweeted. “If you’re so confident, let’s debate the Constitution.”
Cotton invited Zarif to meet in Washington at a “time of your choosing to debate Iran’s record of tyranny, treachery, & terror.”
The senator, a U.S. Army veteran with combat service in Iraq and Afghanistan, then got personal, saying he understood if Zarif declined the offer – “after all, in your 20s, you hid in U.S. during Iran-Iraq war while peasants & kids were marched to die.”
It was no “badge of courage,” Cotton added, “to hide in U.S. while your country fought war to survive – but shows cowardly character still on display today.”
Zarif studied international relations at San Francisco State University in the late 1970s and earned an MA and PhD in international studies at the University of Denver in 1984 and 1988 respectively.
The war between Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq lasted from 1980-1988, and cost at least half a million lives on both sides.
In a separate statement responding to Zarif’s NYU comments, Cotton noted that the Iranian foreign minister had again contradicted Obama’s declaration that sanctions will only be lifted when Iranian compliance with nuclear restrictions are verified.
In response to the “whether Senator Cotton likes it or not” jibe, Cotton said, “Sanctions relief isn’t about what I like, but what will keep America safe from a nuclear-armed Iran.”
“But I suspect Foreign Minister Zarif is saying what President Obama will not because the president knows such terms would be unacceptable to both Congress and the American people.”
“The repeated provocative statements made by members of the Iranian leadership demonstrate why Iran cannot be trusted and why the president’s decision to pursue this deal and grant dangerous concessions to Iran was ill-advised from the beginning.”
Cotton said Zarif’s statements reaffirmed the need for Congress to approve any final nuclear deal.
“As we consider the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, I urge my colleagues to ensure we pass legislation strong enough to stop a bad deal in its tracks and protect the American people from a nuclear Iran.”
The Senate’s consideration of the legislation crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) continued on Wednesday, working its way through some of the dozens of amendments filed by Republicans.
Despite Zarif’s claims, under the current version of Corker’s bill if the House and Senate both pass resolutions “stating in substance that the Congress does not favor the agreement,” and the Senate overcomes a possible presidential veto, then Obama would be unable to lift those Iran sanctions that are mandated by Congress.