- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

With a key Senate Democrat giving the Obama administration the number of votes needed to block any Republican effort to derail the Iran nuclear deal Wednesday, Secretary of State John F. Kerry offered fresh defense of the accord — asserting anew that it “will make the United States, Israel, the [Persian] Gulf states and the world safer.”

Mr. Kerry told an audience at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia that prior to the reaching of the nuclear accord in July, Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon was about two months.

“With this agreement, it will increase by a factor of six, to at least a year, and it will remain at that level for a decade or more,” he said.

Republican leaders and others — including more than 200 high-level former U.S. military officers — dispute such claims, saying the deal lacks safeguards to verify that Iran won’t cheat and use the accord as diplomatic cover to develop nuclear weapons right under the noses of international nuclear inspectors.

But Mr. Kerry’s remarks came as the number of Democrats backing the agreement climbed to 34 on Wednesday, ensuring a landmark victory for President Obama over ferocious opposition from Republicans and the government of Israel.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced Wednesday morning that she will support the accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Mr. Kerry and top diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, China and Russia reached with Iran this summer.

“No deal is perfect, especially one negotiated with the Iranian regime,” Mrs. Mikulski said. “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,” the senator added in a statement circulated a day after two other Democrats —  Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware, and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — gave similar reasons for throwing their own weight behind the deal.

Congress is expected to vote in the coming weeks on a resolution aimed at blocking the Obama administration from carrying through with broad sanctions relief provided for Iran under the terms of the accord.

President Obama has said he would veto such a resolution. Republicans hoped to deliver the resolution with a super-majority that could override a presidential veto. With 34 Democrats now publicly backing the deal, the super-majority seems impossible.

The rising support from Democrats, meanwhile, follows weeks of attempts by lobbyists, former officials and others to try and influence lawmakers either for or against the deal.

More than 120 wealthy Democratic donors, including Hollywood producer Norman Lear and former Clinton-Gore campaign chair Mickey Kantor, wrote to Democratic leaders on the hill in early August, urging them to express support for the accord.

Last week saw some 214 former high-level U.S. military officers put their stamp on a letter calling for congressional leaders to reject the deal, asserting that it “will enable Iran to become far more dangerous” and “introduce new threats to American interests.”

Mr. Kerry has aggressively pushed back against such claims and his speech in Philadelphia was part of a fresh public relations campaign by the Obama administration to sell the deal to Congress and the American public.

Earlier Wednesday morning, Mr. Kerry disputed the notion that the deal will trigger an arms race in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim rivals of Shiite Muslim Iran seek to protect themselves from a potentially nuclear-armed Tehran.

“The fastest way to a genuine arms race in Middle East is not to have this agreement,” the secretary of state said in an appearance on MSNBC. “Because if you don’t have this agreement, Iran has already made clear what its direction is — and that is a direction that is only slowed down or stopped by this agreement.”

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