A fierce and well-funded Republican effort to deter President Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran was blocked on Thursday by Democrats in the Senate, clearing the way for Obama to implement the long term historic agreement between Iran and six world powers signed in Switzerland on July 14, 2015.
Republicans failed to get the 67 votes needed to override the president’s veto and fell 2 votes short of the 60 votes required to move the disapproval measure forward.
The final count was 58-42 in the 100 member chamber.
Forty Democrats and 2 independents voted to filibuster the Republican led disapproval measure.
In May an agreement was reached in the Senate to have a 60 day review period which ends Sept. 17th to debate the terms of the nuclear agreement and then hold an approval or disapproval vote.
Conservative pro-Israel groups raised $40 million to lobby against the nuclear agreement.
On Wednesday Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz rallied against the nuclear agreement from Washington D.C.
Trump blasted the agreement, saying in harsh terms that it was “incompetently negotiated” by a group of “very stupid leaders.”
Democrat candidate Hilary Clinton gave her support to the nuclear agreement on Wednesday while speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.
The Democratic filibuster vote on Thursday is a major foreign policy victory for President Obama and his administration which has come under fierce criticism from conservatives and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who fear that Iran is out to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons and will become a stronger regional power after sanctions are lifted.
“We’ll revisit the issue next week and see if maybe any folks want to change their minds,” said Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell following the vote yesterday.
President Obama said in a statement yesterday that the full nuclear agreement, known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA), was a “victory for diplomacy” and will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“Today, the Senate took an historic step forward and voted to enable the United States to work with our international partners to enable the implementation of the comprehensive, long-term deal that will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon” Obama said.
Obama explained that holding Iran accountable to the terms of the nuclear agreement is the next step.
“Going forward, we will turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon, while pursuing a foreign policy that leaves our country – and the world – a safer place” Obama said.
Secretary of State John Kerry was instrumental in negotiating the agreement with Iran and the other six world powers.
Kerry said in a released statement yesterday that he is convinced that the benefits of the nuclear agreement far outweigh any potential drawbacks.
“The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action includes the most extensive verification and transparency provisions ever negotiated; it mandates strict cutbacks and enduring limits on Iran’s nuclear activities; and it prohibits Iran from developing a nuclear weapon forever” Kerry said.
“We will also continue to work closely with our partners and allies in the region to deepen our security cooperation, and to counter Iran’s destabilizing behavior, including its support for terrorism” Kerry added later in the statement.
Even if the Senate would have voted to disapprove the nuclear agreement, several of the other 5 world powers are set to end their own sanctions on Iran which has over $100 billion in frozen assets due to the sanctions although in actual monetary terms the amount is lower after the sanctions are lifted and Iran’s economy returns to the global market.
European sanctions are less extensive than U.S. sanctions and will be lifted more quickly.
Only a small fraction of the sanctions, the ones tied to Iran’s nuclear activities will be lifted through the new agreement.
The other U.S. sanctions concerning Iran’s human rights violations will remain imposed.
In July the White House released an outline of the historic nuclear deal that describes how it will block the so called “four pathways to a nuclear weapon.”
The White House outline explains that if Iran is successful in developing a nuclear weapon, it would need two key elements to construct a uranium bomb: 1) tens of thousands of centrifuges and 2) enough highly enriched uranium to produce enough material to construct a uranium bomb.
Currently, there are 2 uranium enrichment sites in Iran: the Nantz facility and the Fordow facility.
Iran has a uranium stockpile to create 8 to 10 nuclear bombs at the present time.
But under the terms of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran must reduce its uranium stockpile by 98 percent and keep its level of uranium enrichment at 3.67 percent which is dramatically below the enrichment level needed to create a bomb.
Iran has close to 20,000 centrifuges to create highly enriched uranium for a bomb at the Nantz facility and Fordow facility.
According to the terms of the new nuclear deal, Iran must lower its centrifuges to 6,104 for the next ten years.
No enrichment will be allowed at the Fordow facility and the only type of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to use are their oldest and least efficient models.
Another way Iran could build a nuclear weapon is by using weapons-grade plutonium.
Currently, the only site where Iran could accomplish this is the Arak reactor, a heavy water nuclear reactor.
Under the terms of the new deal, the Arak reactor won’t be allowed to produce any weapons-grade plutonium and all of the spent fuel rods will be shipped out of the country.
Meanwhile, Iran won’t be permitted to build a single heavy-water reactor for at least 15 years.
Based on the new nuclear deal, Iran has also agreed to follow “extraordinary and robust monitoring, verification, and inspection” with international inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continuously monitoring every element of Iran’s declared nuclear program, but also verifying that no fissile material is covertly sent to a secret location to build a bomb.
If IAEA inspectors become aware of a suspicious location, Iran has agreed to implement the Additional Protocol to their IAEA Safeguards Agreement, which permits inspectors to access and inspect any site they believe is suspicious within 24 days.
The new nuclear deal essentially removes the main elements needed to build a bomb while it extends Iran’s break out time from 2-3 months to 1 year– if Iran violates its commitments.
If Iran violates any aspect of the deal, the U.S., U.N, and the EU can snap back the sanctions that have already damaged Iran’s economy.
Anthony Cordesman, a defense expert at the Center For Strategic and International Studies, was quoted in a July article in Wired, saying that nuclear inspectors from the IAEA monitoring Iran for compliance “will be allowed to have a better set of surveillance systems that provide much more detail on a real time and continuing basis.”
Cordesman explained that “if and when then intelligence community identifies a potential unknown facility, the equipment the IAEA has at its disposal will be able to sniff it out, even with that 24 day grace period.”
“The problem is that if you tool up and then you have to tear it down, that’s a pretty expensive game, as well as a very high risk one, when it comes down to the stuff that’s going to be detectable” Cordesman said.
“While 24 days sounds like a lot of time, if it involves any radioactive material, it is damn hard to get rid of ” Cordesman added.
-Johnathan Schweitzer email@example.com