Obama secures enough support to protect Iran nuclear pact

President wins over a 34th Democratic senator to protect deal from Republican attack

Secretary of state John Kerry: Voting against Iran nuclear deal would be a “self-destructive blow to our nation’s leadership”. Photograph: Getty Images

President Barack Obama has scored a major victory by securing the support of Democrat Barbara Mikulski as the 34th senator to back his nuclear deal with Iran, protecting it from his Republican opponents.

Senator Mikulski's support gave Mr Obama, who is seeking to cement one of the landmark foreign policy achievements of his presidency, the crucial 34 Senate votes he needs to sustain a veto that would overrule Republicans' legislation aimed at scuppering the deal.

Mr Obama's political opponents on Capitol Hill require 67 votes in the 100-seat Senate chamber to overcome a White House veto that would prevent Republicans from unravelling the historic agreement.

Republicans oppose the Iran deal, which was brokered by the US and five other world powers, because it leaves Tehran with a nuclear generation capacity. The party wants further sanctions imposed on Iran to secure a better deal that would dismantle its nuclear programme.

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The Obama administration has been winning over more and more Democrats in recent weeks ahead of an expected vote before a September 17th deadline when Congress must approve the agreement.

Democratic senators Chris Coons of Delaware and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania pledged their support a day before Ms Mikulski.

Best option

The Maryland senator, the longest serving female member of Congress in history with 37 years in Washington, called the deal “the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb”.

“Some have suggested we reject this deal and impose unilateral sanctions to force Iran back to the table. But maintaining or stepping up sanctions will only work if the sanction coalition holds together,” said the 79-year-old Mikulski.

"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 US."

The Democrats are the minority party in the Senate, holding 45 seats. Even with rebels in his own party, including New York senator Chuck Schumer, who is expected to be the party's next leader in the Senate, the president has garnered enough support to secure the deal.

The Obama administration has said it will continue to push for more support in Congress for the deal that curbs Iran’s nuclear programme and try to win over undecided politicians on Capitol Hill to secure the 40 votes needed to filibuster a Republican Bill against the agreement.

Impassioned speech

US secretary of state

John Kerry

continued to push for the agreement he helped broker, saying that voting against it would be a “self-destructive blow to our nation’s leadership.”

“To vote down this agreement is to solve nothing,” he said in an impassioned speech in Philadelphia.

Only two Democratic senators, Mr Schumer and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, have publicly opposed the deal and even with all 54 Republican senators voting against the deal, the party would need another four Democrats to pass legislation torpedoing the agreement.

Dick Cheney, former vice- president to Republican president George W Bush, warned that the deal would lead to an arms race in the Middle East and "may involve something far deadlier than airline tickets and box cutters" – a reference to the September 2001 attacks on the US.

“This isn’t just about Iran getting nukes. This is also about the neighbouring states that are going to insist on getting their own,” he told MSNBC in an appearance to promote a new book.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times