U.S. Sen. Mikulski gives Obama key vote for Iran nuclear deal

By Amy R. Connolly   |   Updated Sept. 2, 2015 at 1:26 PM
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski gave President Obama the critical last vote of support he needed to keep his promise to veto Congress if it rejects the historic Iran nuclear deal later this month.

Mikulski, a Democrat, said she spent "countless hours reading, being briefed and pouring over the intelligence" before coming to her decision. Mikulski, who is retiring at the end of her term, handed Obama a foreign-policy win after months-long lobbying efforts by his administration.

"No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime. I have concluded that this Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is the best option available to block Iran from having a nuclear bomb," she said in a written statement. "For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal. However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel."

Shortly after Mikulski announced her decision in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry took to the podium at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to make his case about the accord, saying the agreement is the best way to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Kerry said the inspection arrangement is unprecedented and stringent. There will be continuous monitoring of Iran's nuclear facilities, including reviews of the way uranium is mined and produced before it becomes waste.

"Without this agreement, the Iranians would have several pathways to a bomb. With it, they won't have any," he said.

Kerry said he understands concerns raised by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but said the people of Israel "will be safer with this deal."

"The international community is not telling Iran that it can't have a nuclear weapon for 15 years. We are telling Iran that it can't have a nuclear weapon period," he said.

On Tuesday, Obama was down to needing just one vote after two Democratic Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del. and Bob Casey, D-Pa., threw their support behind the historic accord.

The steady stream of Democratic supporters comes in sharp contrast to the nearly unified opposition by Republicans who fear Tehran will eventually build nuclear arms. Two Democracts -- Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Bob Menendez of New Jersey -- have also come out publicly against the deal.

Coons said he reached his decision after weeks of deliberation that included attending a dozen classified briefings and hearings regarding the deal.

"I am voting to support this agreement not because I think it is perfect, or because I believe it is the mechanism to end nuclear proliferation in the region," Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in an address at the University of Delaware. "I am voting for this agreement because it is our most credible opportunity now to lead a global community in containing an existential threat while preserving America's ability to use economic power and military might to successfully dismantle a nuclear program should diplomacy fail."

Casey's point-by-point review of the assessment culminated with him determining "it is the best option available to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

"It places strict limitations on Iran's nuclear program, requires robust monitoring and verification measures, and grants relief only from nuclear sanctions in exchange for verified actions on Iran's part," he said.

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