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Analysis: Iran nuclear deal puts spotlight on Cotton as face of GOP opposition

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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Freshman Republican U.S. Sen. rose to prominence as someone not known for understatement, especially when it comes to criticizing the Obama administration on foreign policy issues.

The nuclear deal between Iran and world powers announced last week is giving the Arkansas lawmaker and Army veteran the chance to double down on that reputation.

Cotton is emerging as one of the most vocal critics of an agreement that would curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions. It's solidifying his role as one of the hawkish members of the Senate and raising the profile of someone that Republicans lawmakers back home have already floated as a potential presidential candidate in the future.

Cotton was among the first Republicans to criticize the deal announced by President , calling it a "grievous, dangerous mistake" and vowing to fight the agreement in the Senate.

"Over the coming weeks, I will work tirelessly to protect America from this deal and to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear-weapons capability," Cotton said in a statement released by his office. "I am confident that the American people will repudiate this dangerous deal and Congress will kill the deal."

It's not a surprising stance from Cotton, who regularly railed against the president's foreign policy during a successful bid for the Senate last year and has made the Iran deal one of his top issues since taking office in January.

His pushback against the nuclear negotiations included the open letter in March he authored that was signed by 46 other senators to Iran's leaders. The letter lectured the leaders about the U.S. Constitution and that any deal it struck with the United States could be undone.

"The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time," the letter said. "We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress."

Though he was first elected to office on the same anti-Obamacare wave that's helped his party became the majority in what had once been a Democratic stronghold in the South, Cotton has tried to tout national security and foreign policy as one of his chief strengths.

It's an area that has highlighted Cotton's unapologetic rhetoric. His comments on foreign policy are usually met with cheers from conservatives who call him blunt and straightforward, and criticism from opponents who accuse him of over-the-top reactions.

Arguing earlier this year against closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Cotton said there aren't enough terror suspects being held there, but the ones that are imprisoned "can rot in hell." When Venezualan President died in 2013, Cotton responded with "Sic semper tyrannis," Latin for "thus always to tyrants." John Wilkes Booth uttered the same after assassinating President Lincoln.

Cotton gained attention in the House two years ago for a proposal that would have extended sanctions on Iranian human rights violators to their families — an idea that has been criticized as eliminating due process. Cotton, who withdrew the proposal, has defended the idea and said it would only apply to sanctions on Iranians, not American citizens.

It's unclear whether Cotton and other Republicans will be successful in blocking the Iran deal. A law the president signed earlier this year gives him five days to submit the agreement to Congress for review and provides for a condensed, 60-day period for Congress to hold hearings and consider legislation that would bar him from lifting sanctions that lawmakers have enacted in recent years. The president said Tuesday he'll block any legislation that blocks the deal.

But even if he loses the fight, Cotton may still enjoy political dividends from the platform it's giving him.


Andrew DeMillo has covered Arkansas government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ademillo

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