Secretary of State John Kerry’s impassioned speech Wednesday in defense of the Iran nuclear agreement was intended to sway undecided members of Congress into support, but it turned out his lectern-thumping and dire warnings weren’t even necessary to save the deal.
With Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, announcing her support Wednesday, the Obama administration now has the 34th vote it needed to ensure the accord will make it through Congress, which is considering a Republican resolution meant to scrap the deal. With seven more votes of support, the resolution wouldn’t make it out of the Senate and would spare President Barack Obama from vetoing, though that’s a far more difficult prospect.
When Congress takes up the matter next week, Kerry said, “the outcome will matter as much as any foreign policy decision in recent history.”
Kerry’s remarks at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia reiterated the administration’s key justifications for the international agreement, which restricts Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief. Kerry said the previous sanctions regimes were “failing to slow, let alone halt, Iran’s relentless march” toward a nuclear weapon and that the deal was the best way to ensure transparency to prevent open or covert activity.
As part of the agreement, Kerry said, the United Nations atomic watchdog agency can go “wherever the evidence leads.”
“No facility, declared or undeclared, will be off limits,” Kerry said.
Critics counter that the administration is making a high-stakes gamble – especially with ally Israel’s security – by trusting Tehran to uphold its end of the deal. Kerry said repeatedly that the agreement wasn’t about trust or promises, but about verifiable benchmarks, unprecedented inspections access and the ability to “snap back” sanctions should Iran be found in noncompliance.
Kerry also attempted to reach across the aisle to Republicans – not a single one in the Senate supports the deal – by invoking former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Reagan-era Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker, both of whom have warned that Iran sanctions would collapse without a deal.
In a further projection of bipartisanship, Kerry was introduced by former Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, whose support of the deal is at odds with the rest of his party.