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Presidential Powers

Foreign Policy Powers

The president or his designated representative, such as the SECRETARY OF STATE, has the exclusive authority to communicate with other nations, recognize foreign governments, receive ambassadors, and make executive agreements. Throughout U.S. history, Congress and the courts have granted the president great deference in conducting foreign policy. This deference is based, in part, on the need for one person, rather than 535 members of Congress, to represent and speak for a national constituency.

These powers were illustrated in the aftermath of the SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, TERRORIST ATTACKS on New York City and Washington, D.C. President GEORGE W. BUSH warned the Taliban government of Afghanistan to surrender Osama bin Laden and other terrorists or face the possibility of war. In the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other representatives lobbied the UNITED NATIONS for support of the U.S. position on Iraq.

In addition to the authority to recognize foreign governments, the president is empowered by Article II to make treaties with foreign nations, subject to the consent of the Senate. A treaty is an agreement between two or more nations containing promises to behave in specified ways.

Executive agreements are international compacts that the president makes with foreign nations without the approval of the Senate. They do not have the same legal status as treaties unless they are subsequently ratified by the Senate. The Constitution does not expressly give the president the power to make executive agreements. However, this power has been inferred from the president's general constitutional authority over foreign affairs. At one time, executive agreements involved minor matters, such as postal relations and the use of radio frequencies. Since the 1930s, however, presidents have negotiated important foreign policy issues through these agreements rather than through treaties. The Supreme Court has recognized that an executive agreement is legally equivalent to a treaty and therefore the supreme law of the land. Executive agreements enable the president to achieve results while avoiding the uncertainty of treaty ratification.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Prerogative orders to ProhibitionPresidential Powers - Veto Power, Executive Orders, Powers Of Appointment, Pardon Power, Power Of Impoundment, Foreign Policy Powers