Iran Nuclear Accord Survives Senate Test in Win for Obama

Updated on
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with veterans and Gold Star Mothers to discuss the Iran nuclear deal on Sept. 10, at the White House in Washington, DC.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with veterans and Gold Star Mothers to discuss the Iran nuclear deal on Sept. 10, at the White House in Washington, DC.

Photographer: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

The Iran nuclear agreement survived a key test in the U.S. Senate Thursday as Democrats blocked a Republican effort to scuttle the accord.

Democrats kept Republicans’ disapproval resolution from advancing in a 58-42 procedural vote, with 60 required, but Republicans said they aren’t giving up. The Senate will hold another vote next week to see if “any folks want to change their minds,” Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

“Foreign policy will be a big issue going into 2016; this agreement is a metaphor for all the mistakes this president has made,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday’s vote was “clear, decisive and final.” He added, “You can continue to relitigate it, but it’s going to have the same result.”

After President Barack Obama wraps up a final victory in Congress, the deal still would be months away from taking effect. It also must be considered by Iran’s parliament, and international weapons inspectors must verify that Iran is meeting initial requirements before economic sanctions can be removed, probably early next year.

The president has lobbied hard for the agreement against unanimous Republican opposition joined by a handful of Democrats. The deal’s survival in Congress would remove the biggest impediment to the accord Iran reached with six world powers to reduce its nuclear program in return for easing international economic sanctions.

In a statement, Obama said “this vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security, and for the safety and security of the world.”

Netanyahu Speech

On House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave a fiery speech to a joint House and Senate meeting on March 3 contending the accord would “all but guarantee” Iran would get nuclear weapons.

The eventual outcome of Congress’s effort to scuttle the accord is sealed regardless of the Senate’s vote: Obama has more than enough Democratic support to preserve the Iran deal even if Congress passed a resolution disapproving it. He has promised a veto, and Senate Republicans lack the votes for an override.

Four Democrats voted with Republicans in favor of advancing the resolution: Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chuck Schumer of New York, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

House Republicans are pursuing a different strategy. The chamber is voting Thursday and Friday on a set of resolutions intended to express Republicans’ opposition to the accord. The Senate doesn’t plan to take them up.

Legal Battle

House Republicans say they are preserving their right to fight a legal battle over the Iran agreement later. They contend the Sept. 17 deadline for Congress to disapprove the agreement isn’t valid.

“What we feel confident in is after Sept. 17, Congress’s opportunity to spoil this deal will expire,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.

Approval of the agreement in Iran is considered all but certain because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has tacitly backed the accord, even as he sought this week to placate hard-liners with oratory that the U.S. remains the “Great Satan” and the “Zionist regime” in Israel won’t exist in 25 years.

A series of requirements would have to be met before oil and financial sanctions could be lifted, probably in the first three months of 2016, according to Western diplomats familiar with the nuclear monitoring process who asked not to be identified in discussing confidential estimates.

Oil Production

Iran could boost oil production by as much as 800,000 barrels a day in 2016, according to Eduard Gracia, a principal at A.T. Kearney Inc.’s oil and gas consulting practice in Dubai. It assumes Iran’s output could be increased by an average of 6 percent a year from now until 2020 as long at it attracts foreign investment to help develop its fields.

U.S. trade with Iran would remain constrained by continuing non-nuclear sanctions imposed on the basis that the Islamic Republic supports terrorism. But European government officials and companies already have been traveling to Tehran to pave the way for revived business.

Senate Republicans proposed their resolution of disapproval, H.J. Res. 61, under a procedure Congress enacted in May to let lawmakers review the nuclear pact. Such a resolution would have to be passed by both houses of Congress to reach Obama’s desk.

A revolt among conservative House Republicans Wednesday prompted that chamber’s leaders to abandon efforts to join the Senate in passing such a resolution.

“This debate is far from over,” Boehner, an Ohio Republican, told reporters Thursday. “Frankly, it is just beginning.”

“We will use every tool at our disposal to stop, slow” the nuclear agreement from being implemented, said the speaker, an Ohio Republican.

For more, read this QuickTake: Iran’s Nuclear Program

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE