WASHINGTON -- The recent letter from 47 Republican senators to the leaders of Iran is an "irresponsible" gambit that breaks with more than two centuries of U.S. foreign policy history, Secretary of State John Kerry argued Wednesday in a hearing on Capitol Hill.
The letter, organized by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), concerns the ongoing negotiations between the U.S., several of its partner nations and Iran aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program. The letter claims to offer a basic lesson in how the U.S. Constitution works, and warns leaders in Tehran that any deal that results from the negotiations will not necessarily be binding, could be modified at any time by Congress and might be discarded entirely by the next president.
The letter -- which actually features a number of errors regarding the Constitution -- has been widely seen as an attempt to sabotage the ongoing talks by eroding Iranian leaders' trust in the United States.
Kerry, testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Wednesday, said he viewed the senators' letter as a shocking, unprecedented attempt to circumvent the nation's commander in chief.
"My reaction to the letter was utter disbelief," Kerry said when asked about it by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
"You write to the leaders in the middle of a negotiation -- particularly the leaders that they have criticized other people for even engaging with or writing to -- to write then and suggest they were going to give a constitutional lesson, which by the way was absolutely incorrect, is quite stunning," he went on.
Kerry noted that presidents often do create binding agreements with foreign governments on all manner of issues without congressional approval.
"This letter ignores more than two centuries of precedent in the conduct of American foreign policy," said Kerry, adding that the suggestion that lawmakers would be willing to undo any presidential agreements "risks undermining the confidence that foreign governments in thousands of important agreements commit to between the United States and other countries."
"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," he said. "That is both untrue and a profoundly bad suggestion to make."
Kerry had more to say, but committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) cut the secretary off, chastising Kerry for delivering a "speech." Corker himself did not sign the letter.
Kerry replied that he wasn't delivering a speech.
"This is a statement about the impact of this irresponsible letter," Kerry said. "I think you have to ask what people are trying to accomplish. The author of the letter says he doesn't want these agreements to be made."
Cotton has said he does not want any deal with Iran unless it involves complete abandonment of the nuclear program. He stood by his position Wednesday with an op-ed in USA Today, declaring that it was his responsibility to make Iran aware that Congress would not necessarily back an agreement.
"If the president won't share our role in the process with his negotiating partner, we won't hesitate to do it ourselves," Cotton wrote.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.