WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama secured enough Senate votes on Wednesday to ensure that his Iran nuclear deal does not die in Congress.
The Republican-dominated Congress can still reject the agreement when it returns to Washington after the summer break next week, but it can no longer undo a presidential veto.
President Obama has pledged to veto any resolution that rejects the deal but to sustain his veto he needs the support of at least 34 Senators in a 100-member house.
When the Senate went on recess, Republicans needed four Democratic senators to undo a veto. The US Constitution allows a lawmaker to vote against his or her party.
And for a while, it seemed that the Republicans would get the required votes. Two Democrats, Senators Charles Schumer and Bob Menendez announced they would support the disapproval resolution the Republicans plan to move in the Senate next week.
But the Obama administration launched a massive campaign to prevent Democrats from voting against the agreement and succeeded in getting support from two Senators, Joe Donnelly, an independent, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.
On Tuesday, Senator Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said he would also vote for the deal.
But the crucial 34th vote came on Wednesday when Senator Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, announced that she too would be voting for the agreement
“I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb,” said the Senator in a statement. “For these reasons, I will vote in favour of this deal. However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel.”
The Republican resolution will still pass the chamber, and get an overwhelming support in the House of Representatives as well. But now the White House has the necessary support to sustain a presidential veto of the Republican resolution.
This would ensure that the deal the United States and five other world powers signed with Iran earlier this year stays. Both Republicans and Democrats acknowledge that the deal would alter the geopolitical scenario in the Middle
East. But Republicans argue that this change would hurt US interests by weakening Israel and America’s Arab allies. Democrats insist that it would promote peace and stability in the region and prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Under the deal, Iran would be subjected to comprehensive inspections on its nuclear programme and forced to reduce current uranium stockpiles and the number of its centrifuges. In exchange, it will be granted sanctions relief of between $50bn and $150bn.
During its campaign to convince Democrats not to vote against the agreement, the Obama administration urged them to consider the alternative, going to a war to prevent Iran to make nuclear weapons. They also arranged a briefing with officials and ambassadors from five other countries who also signed the deal.
The ambassadors made it clear that they did not want to renegotiate the deal with Iran and that the EU would relax its sanctions even if the US did not. This helped persuade the reluctant Democrats to vote for the deal.