A key Democratic congressman said Friday he is backing the nuclear deal with Iran after President Barack Obama wrote him a personal letter saying the U.S. has options to curb Iran if it violates the agreement.
Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a statement he will support the deal. Nadler, who wrote an opinion piece on his reservations for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, said the Aug. 19 letter from Obama allayed his worries.
“Although we know that Iran will remain a major menace to the region and the world, even without nuclear weapons, a nuclear armed Iran would represent an unacceptable threat to the United States, to Israel, and to global security,” Nadler said in the statement. After studying the pact and the arguments from all sides, he concluded that the deal “gives us the best chance of stopping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Accordingly, I will support the agreement and vote against a Resolution of Disapproval.”
Nadler is a key vote because he is an influential Jewish Democrat representing a U.S. congressional district that has the highest percentage of Jewish people. According to a 2013 study by the Jewish Federation of North America, an estimated 37.6 percent of Nadler’s district is Jewish.
Nadler had questioned whether the deal will permanently stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and how the deal can strengthen the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Obama told Nadler the U.S. could take military action against Iran or reinstate sanctions if the country doesn’t comply with a nuclear agreement, part of an effort by the administration to build enough support to ensure the deal survives.
Obama, while on a two-week vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, has stayed engaged in building support for the deal. He needs enough support to avoid a veto override for legislation Republicans have pledged to pass to curb the deal from being enacted. The White House has declined to detail who Obama is calling to talk about the deal.
The letter sought to counter opponents who are urging Congress to reject the accord, including through television advertising in districts of lawmakers who have yet to announce whether they’ll support or oppose it.
“All of the options available to the United States –- including the military option -– will remain available through the life of the deal and beyond,” Obama wrote in the letter, released by the White House Thursday night.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi forwarded Obama’s letter Friday to Democratic House members, saying she hopes it helps those who are still undecided.
“I feel confident that we will sustain the president’s veto, and we will all work together to hold Iran accountable to honoring the agreement,” Pelosi wrote.
Obama also wrote that no other country can block American or multilateral sanctions if the U.S. or European allies believe Iran has failed to meet its commitments. While Obama has made these assurances publicly, the letter to Nadler represents a more personal approach. It’s also intended for other Jewish Democrats and lawmakers in the party who have continuing concerns over the agreement.
Obama also is seeking to counter opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the country’s supporters in the U.S. The letter, reported first by the New York Times, said the administration is prepared to increase missile defense funding for Israel and accelerate the country’s tunnel detection and mapping technology.
Congress is planning mid-September votes by the Republican-led House of Representatives and Senate. Lawmakers are expected to back a formal resolution of disapproval of the multination agreement with Iran to relax sanctions in exchange for concessions and inspections aimed at preventing the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Obama is ramping up his engagement ahead of those votes. Officials also said Thursday that the president will participate in an Aug. 28 webcast with North American Jewish activists, making remarks and answering questions.
White House officials have said they’re confident Obama has sufficient Democratic support to sustain a veto of such legislation.
Obama needs eight more senators to sustain a veto. While 24 Senate Democrats and two independents who caucus with them have said they support the Iran accord, only two Democrats have said they oppose it.
As of Thursday morning, 18 Senate Democrats, including Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, hadn’t announced how they’ll vote on the agreement.
The 435-member House already has more than the 218 votes needed to pass a resolution of disapproval of the accord. At least 230 Republicans, as well as a minimum of 11 of 188 Democrats, are opposed to the deal. With Nadler, at least 54 of the chamber’s Democrats support the agreement, while the rest have yet to announce their position.
New York’s two Democratic senators are split on the accord. Senator Charles Schumer opposes the deal, and Kirsten Gillibrand backs the agreement. Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, also says he will oppose it.
No Republicans in either chamber have come out in favor of the accord.