Republican-led opposition unlikely to scuttle Iran deal
Washington - Intensive lobbying is under way in Washington by proponents and opponents of the Iran nuclear deal. The US Congress has begun a 60-day review process that will end with a resolution to either approve or reject the deal.
Facing nearly unanimous Republican opposition, US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, is hoping that enough Democrats support him to prevent a veto-proof two-thirds majority against the deal. And Obama is counting on the American public to persuade reluctant Democrats to side with him.
Although the vote is expected to be close, Obama is likely to prevail.
Republicans were quick to denounce the Iran nuclear agreement before they even read it. Every Republican leader in Congress and nearly every Republican presidential candidate sharply criticised the deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused the Obama administration of wanting to reach “the best deal acceptable to Iran rather than actually advancing our national goal of ending Iran’s nuclear programme”.
Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the deal would give Iran billions of dollars to finance terrorism against the United States and its allies and would ultimately “pave the way for Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon”.
During testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 23rd, US Secretary of State John Kerry was the object of personal scorn. Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who is normally measured in his comments, told Kerry that he had been “fleeced” in the negotiations. Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho, told Kerry that he had been “bamboozled”.
Kerry gave a spirited defence of the agreement. Addressing accusations that the administration “failed to obtain a better deal”, Kerry said it was unrealistic to insist on Iran’s “complete capitulation” as many wanted. He said Iran has extensive knowledge of the nuclear fuel cycle and “we can’t bomb” or sanction “this knowledge away”.
Kerry warned that if Congress rejected the nuclear agreement it would mean the United States would be “walking away from every one of the restrictions we have achieved” and would be giving Iran “a green light to double the pace of its uranium enrichment”. Kerry said the deal was “the best chance we have to solve this problem through peaceful means”.
Obama has said that, while he welcomes a “robust debate” on the merits of the agreement, he would veto a resolution of disapproval. Opponents of the deal would need a two-thirds majority to override the veto.
This translates to 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate. As Republicans control both houses of Congress, they are assured of simple majorities but they say they can persuade enough Democrats to oppose the president and reach a two-thirds majority. Although Republicans may succeed in reaching 290 votes in the House, getting two-thirds of the Senate will be much more difficult. Obama is looking to muster 34 votes from Senate Democrats to prevent a veto override but the lobbying efforts on both sides have been intense and likely will remain so.
The White House is expected to maintain a sustained campaign in favour of the agreement until Congress votes on it in mid-September. The agreement’s opponents, meanwhile, have started a major television advertising campaign against it.
Polls of the American people on the issue have been mixed. A Washington Post/ABC poll indicated 56% of Americans questioned said they support the nuclear agreement, while 37% oppose it. But a Pew Research Center poll showed of the 79% of American respondents who said they had heard of the agreement, 48% disapproved of it and 38% approved of it.
The discrepancy lies in how the question was framed. The Pew poll asked people if they had heard of the agreement and “from what you know, do you approve or disapprove?” The Washington Post/ABC poll asked a longer question: “As you may know, the US and other countries have announced a deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran agreeing not to produce nuclear weapons. International inspectors would monitor Iran’s facilities, and if Iran is caught breaking the agreement, economic sanctions would be imposed again. Do you support or oppose this agreement?”
Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and a presidential candidate, said Senate Democrats face a “stark choice”: stand with Obama on the nuclear deal or stand with the American people. Obama is hoping there is not much daylight between Senate Democrats and the American people, at least as expressed in the Washington Post/ABC poll. But he will need to continue to press the agreement’s merits to ensure victory.