The morning after Maryland’s Jewish community rallied against the Iran nuclear deal as dangerous and threatening the existence of Israel, one of the state’s senators became the last vote President Obama needed to override a veto.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who is retiring at the end of her term next year, issued her statement just after 10 a.m. AIPAC had encouraged Marylanders to get on the phones when Senate offices opened at 9 a.m. to discourage her from supporting the deal. Several Democrats are still undecided.
Her statement comes conveniently for the administration as Secretary of State John Kerry planned 11 a.m. remarks to try to convince the American public of the deal’s merits. A new Quinnipiac poll shows just 25 percent of Americans supporting the Iran deal, with 55 percent opposing it. Majorities among males, females, whites, blacks and Hispanics said the deal would make the world less safe.
“Without question, this vote is among the most serious I’ve taken,” Mikulski said in her decision. “This vote has monumental and enduring consequences.”
The senator otherwise has a strong pro-Israel record, which left constituents hopeful that she would reject the deal.
“For all my time in both the House and Senate, I have been an unabashed and unwavering supporter of Israel. I have persistently supported the sanctions that brought Iran to the table. I have been insistent on foreign aid and military assistance to Israel that maintains its qualitative military edge on missile defense,” she said. “With the horrors of the Holocaust in mind, I have been deeply committed to the need for a Jewish homeland, the State of Israel, and its inherent ability to defend itself. And for the United States to be an unwavering partner in Israel’s defense. I have been and always will be committed to those principles.”
Mikulski said she took a “workman-like approach, covering every aspect of the deal: military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic.”
“I actually read the deal, both the classified and the unclassified annex. I met the U.S. diplomats, nuclear experts and the national security staff who negotiated the deal. I actively participated in every classified and unclassified briefing available to me,” she said. “I took the additional step of traveling to Vienna to meet with the Director General of the IAEA and his technical staff to evaluate for myself, first hand, the inspection and verification requirements. I have listened to my constituents, including leaders in the Jewish community. I did my homework.”
The confidential agreements between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency have still not been made available to Congress, expect for partial leaked text of a draft published by the Associated Press. That detailed Iran taking its own evidence — photos, videos, samples — for IAEA inspectors at controversial military site Parchin.
Mikulski said she thinks the deal “sufficiently blocks the four pathways to get to a bomb.”
“I have found that this deal provides sufficient verification and inspection mechanisms. The IAEA has extensive access to Iran’s declared nuclear sites, making the detection of violations and a covert program more likely,” she said. “…Does the IAEA have the capacity to implement the agreement? – I would say, yes… But all nations involved in its funding, including but not limited to the United States, have to be aggressively involved in monitoring the resources of the organization.”
As far as sanctions relief, Mikulski said she “would have preferred a glidepath over a three-year period, or longer, for sanctions relief.”
“The sanctions are lifted, not terminated, and can be snapped back, per the agreement,” she said. Her Senate colleague Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) has protested that sanctions “snapback” is not possible, especially when the Obama administration shows no support for reauthorizing current sanctions law — nevermind getting countries that stand to reap cash windfalls from business with Iran agreeing to snap back.
“Russia, China, India and our European partners were very active members of the negotiations with a common interest in Iran not having a nuclear weapon,” Mikulski insisted. “I believe they would support a snapback in sanctions if a violation was identified and verified. But the snapback sanctions mechanism, while innovative, is untested.”
“I’ve considered the alternatives very closely. But in the end, they don’t present a more viable option to this deal. The two alternatives are more sanctions, or military action… If you don’t think snapback works, enhanced sanctions won’t work either.”
Mikulski concluded by noting “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. For these reasons, I will vote in favor of this deal,” she said. “However, Congress must also reaffirm our commitment to the safety and security of Israel.”