World

Iran nuclear deal passes key U.S. Senate vote

The hard-fought nuclear accord with Iran survived the U.S. Senate on Thursday, as Democrats overcame ferocious Republican opposition and delivered President Barack Obama a major victory on his top foreign policy priority.

Republicans have voiced strong opposition to the agreement

President Barack Obama has pushed for the nuclear deal struck between the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany, which gives Iran relief from international sanctions in exchange for a decade of constraints on its nuclear program. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

The hard-fought nuclear accord with Iran survived the U.S. Senate on Thursday, as Democrats overcame ferocious Republican opposition and delivered President Barack Obama a major victory on his top foreign policy priority.

A disapproval resolution for the agreement fell just short of the votes needed to move forward as most Democratic and independent senators banded together against it, all but guaranteeing that the measure would not reach Obama's desk and the nuclear deal will move forward unchecked by a Congress controlled by Republicans. It's an improbable win by Obama in the face of staunch opposition from the state of Israel and Republicans in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail.

Republicans remained committed to working against the international accord, as members of the House of Representatives continued to pursue eleventh-hour strategies to derail it against all odds and Senate Republicans promised a re-vote.

Beginning next week, Obama will be free to start scaling back U.S. sanctions to implement the agreement negotiated by Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers. The accord aims to constrain Iran's nuclear ambitions in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions.

No amount of saying this issue is over makes it over. I say to Iranian observers of the debate, [the deal] will be looked on anew.- Mitch McConnell, Senate Republican Majority Leader

"This vote is a victory for diplomacy, for American national security and for the safety and security of the world," the president said in a statement. "Going forward, we will turn to the critical work of implementing and verifying this deal so that Iran cannot pursue a nuclear weapon."

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., and Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill., answer questions for reporters following the Senate vote on the Iran nuclear agreement on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press)
Opponents never had much chance of blocking the deal in Congress, where Democratic minorities in the House and Senate could secure a win for Obama simply by upholding his veto of a disapproval resolution. Yet it was widely expected in the days after the nuclear deal was signed July 14 that Obama would have to use his veto pen.

Despite poll numbers showing significant public concern about the agreement, opposition never seemed to catch fire among Democrats or voters over the summer. In the end, instead of registering unified opposition to the deal, congressional Republicans turned the debate into the latest occasion for infighting within the party and between the House and Senate.

McConnell promises future vote

Frustrated Republicans railed against Democrats for using a procedural vote to block final passage of the disapproval resolution, and issued grim warnings about a deal they contend could serve only to enrich Tehran and leave it closer to building a bomb when constraints begin to ease in 10 or 15 years. They promised that Thursday's vote would not be the Senate's last word, and moments after it was over Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the stage for another next week.

"No amount of saying this issue is over makes it over," McConnell declared, adding that if a Republican wins the White House next year, "I say to Iranian observers of the debate, [the deal] will be looked on anew."

But Democrats led by Minority Leader Harry Reid promised that any further votes would have the same outcome "and are just simply a waste of time."

In the House, Republicans had not given up on blocking the deal. After backtracking on plans to vote on the disapproval resolution when it began to look short of support in the Senate, House Republicans lined up votes on several related measures.

Late Thursday they agreed on a party-line 245-186 vote to a measure specifying that Obama had not properly submitted all documents related to the accord for Congress' review, and therefore a 60-day review clock had not really started.

That will be followed Friday by votes on a bill to approve the accord — which is doomed to fail, but Republicans want to force Democrats to go on record in favor of the agreement — and on a measure preventing Obama from lifting congressionally mandated sanctions on Iran.

"This debate is far from over, and frankly, it's just beginning," said Republican House Speaker John Boehner. "This is a bad deal with decades-long consequences for the security of the American people and our allies. And we'll use every tool at our disposal to stop, slow, and delay this agreement."

Some House Republicans, buoyed by a favourable ruling this week in a lawsuit they filed over Obama's health care law, have begun suggesting a lawsuit to stop the accord. Boehner called that "an option that is very possible."

Yet the House Republican manoeuvres seemed to have little chance of bearing results. Even before the Senate voted, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was boasting of the administration's success.

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