Senator Barbara Mikulslki (D-MD) announced Wednesday her support for the nuclear deal with Iran, granting President Barack Obama the support of the minimum 34 senators necessary to uphold his presidential veto should the Senate vote against the deal.
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Mikulski's announcement is a victory for Obama, who in recent weeks has exerted extensive efforts to convince senators from his party to support the Iran deal. It is also a blow to senior Republicans, AIPAC, Israeli envoy to Washington Ron Dermer and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who exerted no fewer efforts against the deal, trying to convince Democratic legislators to vote against it.
In the final days remaining before the vote, which will take place around September 10, Obama will try to win the support of six more Democratic Senators. This would enable a filibuster in Senate, which would block any vote on a resolution opposing the Iran deal, thus negating the need for Obama to use his veto.
“Some have suggested we reject this deal and impose unilateral sanctions to force Iran back to the table," she said. "But maintaining or stepping up sanctions will only work if the sanction coalition holds together, it’s unclear if the European Union, Russia, China, India and others would continue sanctions if Congress rejects this deal. At best, sanctions would be porous or limited to unilateral sanctions by the U.S.”
Mikulski's announcement came shortly before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivered an address in Philadelphia, responding to opponents of the deal and trying to win further support for it from American legislators.
In his address, Kerry said that he and Obama were convinced that the deal with Iran would "get the job done," and make U.S., Israel, the Gulf States and the rest of the world safer.
"Without this agreement the Iranians would have several potential pathways to a bomb; with it, they won't have any," Kerry said. Moreover, Kerry added, the deal would enable the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect every suspected site – no facility would be backed off limits.
Kerry also said that 100 states expressed public support for the nuclear agreement, with one exception. Although he did not say it, Kerry was referring to Israel.
He said he did not agree with Netanyahu's criticism on the nuclear agreement but did not doubt the sincerity of the prime minister's concern. He spoke of his personal support for Israel and listed the massive security and political assistance that the United States has given Israel in recent years.
"I understand the conviction that Israel, even more than any other country, simply cannot afford a mistake in defending its security," he said, adding: "I am convinced that this agreement will prevent Iran from ever getting a nuclear weapon and will make the Israeli people safer," Kerry said.
Immediately after the address, Kerry published a letter he sent to all members of the Senate and House of Representatives, detailing the security guarantees the U.S. is planning to give to Israel and Gulf States following implementation of the Iran deal.
Kerry wrote in his letter that the U.S. wanted to sign a new security deal which would ensure American military support to Israel for 10 years, beginning in 2017.
He added that the U.S. was prepared to expand aid to Israel for development of a mid-to-long range missile defense system, like those which Iran and Hezbollah have. He emphasized that the U.S. would be prepared to allocate for the development of an underground tunnel-finding system and other weapons system that Israel needs.
Republicans are unanimously against the deal. But with an overwhelming number of Senate Democrats in favor, some have now begun aiming to amass 41 yes votes, which would allow them to kill the disapproval resolution outright in the Senate and protect Obama from having to use his veto pen.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami welcomed Mikulski's announcement, calling it a "significant milestone and a victory for President Obama’s policy of using diplomacy to tackle even the toughest international disputes."
“After a great national debate that has taken place over the past two months, rational argument, solid analysis and sober reflection have won over wild exaggeration, scaremongering and a flood of money,” said Ben-Ami. “Supporters of the agreement, including J Street, were vastly outspent by opponents – but almost every lawmaker who began this debate undecided and was willing to listen to both sides ended up supporting the deal.”