WASHINGTON – Republican opposition to President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal is flaring over revelations of a secret side agreement involving Iranian inspections. But House Democrats are shrugging off the report and claiming they have the votes to back up Obama anyway.
The Associated Press reported Wednesday on a previously undisclosed side deal between Iran and the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that would allow Tehran to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms.
The revelation, based on a document seen by the AP, newly riled Republican lawmakers who have been severely critical of the broader agreement to limit Iran’s future nuclear programs, signed by the Obama administration, Iran and five world powers in July. Those critics have complained that the wider deal is unwisely built on trust of the Iranians, while the administration has insisted it depends on reliable inspections.
“President Obama boasts his deal includes ‘unprecedented verification.’ He claims it’s not built on trust,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “But the administration’s briefings on these side deals have been totally insufficient – and it still isn’t clear whether anyone at the White House has seen the final documents.”
Said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif.: “International inspections should be done by international inspectors. Period.”
But in an interview with the AP, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi questioned the significance of the revelation, noting it relates to investigations of past military work, not nuclear dealings going forward. “I truly believe in this agreement,” she said.
And the California Democrat asserted that House Democrats have the votes to uphold any Obama veto of a congressional resolution disapproving of the Iran agreement. Congress will vote next month on such a resolution, but if it is approved Obama has pledged to veto it. A two-thirds vote in the House and Senate would then be necessary to override him – a tough goal to reach even in a Congress controlled by Republicans who will likely oppose Obama unanimously.
“The president’s veto would be sustained” if the vote were held today, Pelosi said, adding she hopes it doesn’t get to that point. “But I feel very confident about it… We will sustain the veto.”
Presuming all Republicans oppose Obama, it would take 146 Democrats to sustain his veto in the House. So far around 55 have publicly declared their support; Pelosi declined to say how many others have said so in private.
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged earlier this week that the two-thirds bar is so high that opponents of the deal are unlikely to be able to clear it. And with the Capitol empty of lawmakers and staff with Congress on its annual six-week summer recess, it was difficult to gauge whether the new disclosure on the side deal would impact Democratic support.
In the hours after the side deal became public two more Democratic senators – Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Ed Markey of Massachusetts – announced their support for the deal. That brought the total of Democratic senators supporting the deal to 25, with just two opposed.
The liberal group Americans United for Change also announced plans Thursday for a $500,000 ad campaign supporting the deal in a half-dozen cities with large Jewish populations, countering concerted opposition from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other groups.
The newly disclosed side agreement, for an investigation of the Parchin nuclear site, was worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers were not party to it but were briefed by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package.
White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the Obama administration was “confident in the agency’s technical plans for investigating the possible military dimensions of Iran’s former program… The IAEA has separately developed the most robust inspection regime ever peacefully negotiated.”