A U.S. senator's announcement that she will vote for the international agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program gave President Barack Obama a major foreign-policy victory Wednesday.
Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, a Democrat, was the 34th member of the Senate to pledge her support for the deal when it comes up for a vote in the US. Congress — enough to assure that Obama will prevail in the administration's effort to complete action on the landmark nuclear agreement.
Mikulski said, “No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime.” However, she added, she has concluded the Iran deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — is the best option available to block Tehran from producing a nuclear bomb.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who played a leading role in marathon international negotiations that produced the agreement with Iran in July, appealed for even more support from Congress in an impassioned speech Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Answering opponents who contend the new agreement with Iran is unworkable because the leadership in Tehran is not trustworthy, Kerry said the JCOA is not based on trusting Iran, but on the international community's ability to police Iran's nuclear research-and-development work.
"The United States and the international community will be monitoring Iran nonstop," Kerry said. " ... The agreement gives us a wide range of enforcement tools, and we will use them. And the standard we will apply can be summed up in two words: 'zero tolerance' [for nuclear weapons]."
After Mikulski announced her decision to support Obama on the Iran deal, a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner issued a statement declaring the political fight in Washington was not over: “Forcing a bad deal, over the objections of the American people and a majority in Congress, is no win for President Obama. The White House may have convinced just enough Democrats to back an agreement that legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program, trusts the regime to self-inspect and offers amnesty to terrorists, but this deal is far from being implemented.”
The issue before Congress is not a straight, up-or-down vote on the agreement reached with Iran by negotiators from the major world powers. It's a resolution of "disapproval" of the agreement, which could allow Congress to delay or derail any U.S. easing of sanctions against Iran — a key part of the deal. Obama has said he will reject any such action, by using his veto power, if necessary.
The Senate can overturn a presidential veto with a two-thirds vote, or 67 members. With 34 Senate votes now pledged to him, Obama can be confident that any attempt to overturn his veto will fail.
Democrats in the House of Representatives say they also will have enough votes to block any attempt to overturn a presidential veto. Under those conditions, Congress would have virtually no pathway to block implementation of the deal with Iran.
The agreement signed by the United States, Iran and five other world powers in July puts restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for providing Tehran relief from economic sanctions. The Obama administration has been pushing hard for months to shore up support for the deal despite opposition from virtually all Republican members of Congress.
In addition to their complaint about feeling that Iran's leaders cannot be trusted, opponents say they are concerned that Iran will use the additional revenue it will gain once sanctions are lifted to assist groups working against U.S. interests, including Middle East terrorists.
The House and Senate are both due to vote on the Iran deal by September 17, following a monthlong summer recess that ends next week. If the House considers a resolution of disapproval similar to the one under discussion among senators, the minority party's leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi, has vowed her bloc will muster enough votes to sustain any vote on the Iran issue.
Americans divided on deal
The American public appears sharply polarized along party lines on the subject of a nuclear agreement with Iran. A new survey released Tuesday by the University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation found 55 percent of Americans backing the deal, while 44 percent would like to see it rejected.
The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in July endorsing the agreement. It says economic sanctions from the U.N., U.S. and European Union against Iran would be lifted once the International Atomic Energy Agency determined that Iran had complied with its long-running probe into questions about whether Iran worked to develop nuclear arms. Iran has insisted its program is peaceful, and the IAEA plans to issue its final report by the end of December.
If the deal goes into effect and Iran is found later to have violated restrictions, such as the limit on the number of uranium centrifuges it employs or the level of uranium enrichment it is allowed, the agreement includes a so-called snapback feature that would reimpose the sanctions.