WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Democrats have rallied the 34 votes they need to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive in Congress, handing President Barack Obama a major foreign policy victory.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland became the crucial 34th vote Wednesday morning, declaring the agreement is the best way to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Congress is to vote later this month on a resolution disapproving the deal, which is unanimously opposed by Republicans, who call it a dangerous giveaway to Iran.
Obama has vowed to veto the resolution if it passes. It would take 34 votes to uphold his veto, and Democrats now have those in hand.
The agreement — signed by Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers — seeks to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from sanctions.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
President Barack Obama is just one Senate vote shy of being able to declare success on the Iran nuclear deal and cement a foreign policy legacy.
Senate support for the deal now stands at 33 votes, thanks to announcements Tuesday from Democrats Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Chris Coons of Delaware.
Once supporters reach 34 votes, they would be able to uphold Obama’s expected veto of GOP legislation aimed at blocking the Iran deal. That disapproval resolution is set for a vote later this month.
Secretary of State John Kerry is sending a letter to all members of Congress outlining U.S. security commitments to Israel and the Gulf Arab states in light of the nuclear deal. The letter comes as Kerry prepares to deliver a major policy speech Wednesday in Philadelphia that focuses on how the international agreement makes the U.S. and its allies safer and how the deal is being mischaracterized by some opponents.
“I really believe the fastest way to a genuine arms race in the Middle East is to not have this agreement,” Kerry said in a nationally broadcast interview Wednesday. “Because if you don’t have this agreement, Iran has already made clear what its direction is.”
With opposition to the agreement failing to get traction on the Democratic side, supporters may even be able to muster the 41 votes needed to block the resolution from passing in the first place, sparing Obama from having to use his veto pen. That would require eight of the 11 remaining undeclared senators to decide in favor of the deal.
“This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time,” Casey said in a statement. In remarks at the University of Delaware, Coons said: “I will support this agreement despite its flaws because it is the better strategy for the United States to lead a coalesced global community in containing the spread of nuclear weapons.”
Republicans in Congress and running for president unanimously oppose the deal, which aims to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. The Israeli government is vehemently against it, contending that concessions made to Iran could empower that country, which has sworn to destroy Israel. But critics have failed to use Congress’ summer recess to turn the tide against the agreement, despite a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign funded by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.
Only two Democratic senators have come out against the deal — Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — while in recent weeks undeclared Democratic senators, even from red states, have broken in favor one after another.
Even if Congress were able to pass the disapproval resolution, it can’t stop the deal, which was agreed to among Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. In July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the nuclear deal, approving a resolution that would lift the international sanctions on Iran in 90 days.
Interviewed on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program Wednesday, Kerry said that the absence of an agreement is what could lead to a nuclear arms race in the region. Putting the deal in place, he said, will keep other nations “from chasing a weapon on their own.”
Kerry also said that if the U.S. rejects the deal, it would confirm the fears of Iran’s leaders “that you can’t deal with the West, that you can’t trust the West.”
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.