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Iran Nuclear Deal Withstands Final Vote in Congress


FILE - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 16, 2015.
FILE - Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 16, 2015.

The U.S. Congress has failed to kill the Iran nuclear deal, and in another month the accord will begin to go into effect, as Iran makes the changes required so that economic sanctions can be lifted.

October 18 is Adoption Day, senior administration officials announced at a state department briefing Thursday. On that day, they said, Iran will start to remove thousands of centrifuges and put them into storage. It will also make other "major changes" to its core nuclear infrastructure. Additionally, Tehran will put transparency measures in place at its uranium mills.

How long the process begun on Adoption Day will take is up to Iran. Most likely, it will take months.

"The ball is really in Iran's court," said a senior administration official. “It is difficult for us to predict how long it is going to be until sanctions relief is implemented, because we can’t offer that relief to the Iranians until they take all of these steps.”

Payoff for Tehran

After the steps are taken and they have been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency comes Implementation Day — the payoff for Iran, because that is when the nuclear-related economic sanctions will be lifted.

Although the officials said it would most likely be some years before Iran’s economy recovers, getting out from under the sanctions would be a hugely symbolic first step.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Stephen Mull, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, would be the lead coordinator for the implementation of the nuclear agreement. Kerry said Mull would lead the effort to ensure that the steps Iran committed to “are fully implemented and verified.”

Earlier in his career, Mull worked on issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program and was key in designing the U.N. resolution that imposed sanctions on Iran. In the coming months, he will participate in expert meetings about implementing the Iran nuclear deal, including sessions on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Last bid to kill deal

Senate Republicans mounted a last-gasp effort to register their disapproval of the accord earlier Thursday, pushing a measure that would have prevented U.S. sanctions relief until Iran recognized Israel and released detained Americans.

“We cannot allow Iran to be empowered as a nuclear threshold state armed with billions in sanctions relief without at least providing some protection to Israel first, without at least demanding the release of Americans who have languished in Iranian custody for years,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

The vote came just under the wire as a 60-day congressional review period regarding the Iran deal was scheduled to end. Democrats banded together to block the disapproval measure one last time.

“The best way to make sure hostages are released, the best way to hasten the day that Israel has the kind of relationship with Iran that they had not that many years ago, is to fully implement the plan that’s before us,” said Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware.

“The agreement with Iran will stand,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said after the vote.

Not ‘legal’

But Republicans said the issue was not settled.

Republican John Cornyn of Texas said the pact was not legally binding beyond President Barack Obama's final term in office. "This is not a legal document; it’s not a treaty. It’s a political agreement," he said. "And so I hope the next president understands that he or she will have complete freedom to tear this deal up and negotiate a better deal.”

Nearly all Republican presidential contenders have pledged to do precisely that if victorious in next year’s election. Democratic aspirants all support the deal. Thus, while Obama implements a legacy-defining nuclear accord, the pact will continue to be debated among those vying to succeed him in office.

VOA's Michael Bowman and Molly McKitterick contributed to this report.