Merkley backs Iran nuclear deal

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley on Sunday announced his support for the Iran nuclear deal, becoming the 31st Democratic senator to back President Barack Obama on the issue.

Just two Senate Democrats have come out against the deal — New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez. Just three more senators are needed to sustain any veto of a resolution of disapproval.

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“I have not reached this conclusion without reservations. The deal has strengths but also significant shortcomings,” Merkley wrote in aMedium postpublished Sunday.

In particular, the senator said, it’s “troubling” that the agreement does not ban the Iranian regime from importing conventional arms and does not mandate how Iran spends the unfrozen cash assets.

“These exclusions raise troubling concerns,” the senator said. “It is certainly possible, perhaps probable, that Iran will use its additional resources and access to conventional arms to increase its support for terrorist groups. And it is certainly possible that Iran will use its nuclear research or nuclear energy program to provide a foundation for a future nuclear weapon program.”
But prospects for a better deal “are slim,” he said. The United States should “direct a massive intelligence program” to back up the agreement in addition to bolstering the monitoring capabilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency after 15 years, as well as establishing the size and enrichment level of uranium enrichment after 15 years that would constitute a violation on the part of the Iranians.

“No foreign policy choice comes with guarantees. The future, whether we approve or reject the deal, is unknowable and carries risks,” he concluded. “But the agreement offers us better prospects for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and more tools and leverage to ensure that outcome.”

Congress, which returns from its summer recess Sept. 8, is set to vote on a resolution on the Iran deal by Sept. 17.