This story has been updated with the latest tweet from the Iranian foreign minister.
Less than 24 hours after Republican Sen. Tom Cotton shared an insanely adorable photo of his just-born son Gabriel, snug in that wide-striped hospital-issued swaddle cloth, the Arkansas lawmaker went after the Iranian foreign minister on Twitter.
For Cotton, there is simply nothing that will keep him from the Iran debate. Though to be fair, Javad Zarif, Iran's top diplomat, started it -- this time.
At an event at New York University Wednesday, Zarif name-checked Cotton twice, both times to the mild amusement of some in the audience, chiding the freshman senator who has pressed for military action against Tehran and who instigated a letter to the Iranian leadership about a possible nuclear accord with Washington.
Cotton, and the 46 other Republican senators who signed his letter, suggested that any deal signed by President Obama could be undone by Congress or a future president. The move was meant to seem hawkish but the backlash was extraordinary. Much of the national security and foreign policy establishment -- including many Republicans -- were appalled by the attempt to undermine U.S. diplomacy and undercut the president's ability to negotiate with a foreign government.
Asked whether he was concerned, at the beginning of a presidential election cycle here, that a new U.S. president could in fact reverse course, Zarif said, “I believe the U.S. will risk isolating itself in the world if there is an agreement and it decides to break it. I think the United States, whether you have a Democratic president or whether you have a Republican president, is bound by international law, whether some senators like it or not.”
Chiding Cotton directly, Zarif said perhaps the Arkansas senator was unaware that the vast majority of bilateral agreements were executive agreements that “have stood the test of decades. If the U.S. Senate wants to send a message to the rest of the world that all of these agreements that the United States has signed are invalid, then you will have chaos in your bilateral relations with the rest of the world. I don’t think that would be something even the most radical elements in congress want to see.”
Zarif said he hoped negotiators could conclude a deal before the June 30th deadline. Then, he said, “within a few days after that, there will be a resolution before the U.N. Security Council,” to lift sanctions, “which will be mandatory for all member states whether Sen. Cotton likes it or not.”
That's when Cotton, a Harvard Law School graduate and Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- with his gorgeous first-born child still in the hospital -- bit.
At first, it seemed like it was going to be a traditional exchange.
About an hour after Zarif's event concluded, Cotton's office issued a press release entitled "Cotton Responds to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's Comments About Lifting Sanctions." The four-paragraph statement took shots at Zarif and Obama, reiterated Cotton's belief that the Iranians cannot be trusted and said any deal should be approved by Congress.
Cotton shared the statement 90 minutes later on Twitter. He received dozens of retweets. And then, the fireworks began.
Cotton posted a series of four tweets challenging Zarif, first to a debate on the Constitution, then to a debate on Iran's record. The 37-year-old Cotton then called Zarif, 55, a coward for spending his college years in the United States, during Iran's Islamic Revolution and subsequent war with Iraq.
Zarif, who is in New York for a U.N. conference on nonproliferation, responded early Thursday morning: