by Derek Davison
In remarks delivered to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) forcefully expressed his support for the nuclear agreement reached in July between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China). Calling the deal “our last, best chance” to “avoid one of the worst threats in today’s world – a nuclear-armed Iran,” Reid declared that “America will uphold its commitment and we will seize this opportunity to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
In related news, three more Senate Democrats (Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Michigan’s Gary Peters, and Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal) announced their support for the deal on Tuesday morning, bringing the total number of Democrats who have publicly declared their support for the deal to 41. That number is more than the 34 needed to uphold a presidential veto of a congressional resolution to reject the deal and is actually enough to allow Senate Democrats to filibuster such a resolution and prevent the need for a veto altogether. Also on Tuesday, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin declared his opposition to the deal, but Reid’s pledge to his CEIP audience that “this agreement will stand” now seems a virtual certainty, barring any successful congressional efforts to scuttle the deal by means other than the resolution of rejection.
Reid portrayed the choice facing opponents of the deal in stark terms:
Now it’s our turn. Now the United States has a choice to make: We can enforce an agreement that forces Iran to walk away from any nuclear-weapons program, or we can walk away from that agreement and assume responsibility for the consequences.
We can take the strongest step ever toward blocking Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, or we can block this agreement and all but ensure Iran will have the fissile material it would need to make a bomb in a matter of months. But we cannot have it both ways.
Make no mistake: blocking the bomb and blocking this agreement are two distinct choices that lead to very different futures.
He later described any congressional move to block the deal as a decision “that would leave Iran with no limitations on any nuclear weapons program, and leave the United States with no leverage to do anything about it.”
Reid went on to argue against the prevailing notion among opponents that rejecting the existing deal would lead to the negotiation of a “better” deal:
Now, after all the good this agreement will do in blocking Iran’s pathways to a bomb – after all the dangers rejecting it will do by letting Iran grow more dangerous while our clout and credibility slip down the drain – after all the assurances that our commitment to Israel’s security is stronger than ever – after all that, some still say they want a better deal.
But there is no such thing. There is no more plausible alternative. There is no better deal.
Opponents of this agreement, who I respect, talk often about how very real the Iranian threat is to Israel and the region – and it absolutely is. But for all the talk about what is real, the idea that we can somehow get a better deal is imaginary.
Diplomats, scientists and our international counterparts tell us it is fantasy. The agreement before us is the result of many years of hard work. We live in the real world – and in the real world, this really is the best option to keep Iran from a nuclear bomb.
In a brief nod to Senator Ben Cardin’s (D-MD) proposed “Iran Policy Oversight Act of 2015,” which purports to “strengthen” the Iran deal but in reality contains a number of provisions that threaten to scuttle it entirely, Reid was non-committal:
I’ve also closely reviewed the legislation that Senator Cardin is proposing, which will provide additional security assistance and assurances to Israel.
After looking at the letter and the legislation, I plan to work with the White House and with both Democrats and Republicans to guarantee that the United States is doing everything possible to protect the safety and security of Israel.
Reid closed by noting the damage that a rejection of such an important international agreement would do to America’s stature in the world:
After convening our international partners in common cause, rallying the world behind tough sanctions, after negotiating and negotiating and negotiating some more – the way America acts now will inform the way we are viewed on the world stage and the credibility with which we can negotiate in the future.
If America reneges on this agreement, we will lose more than the compliance of our adversary – we will lose the confidence of our allies.
America led the negotiations to stop any Iranian nuclear program, and now it is time for Congress to reaffirm America’s leadership by supporting this agreement. We cannot and will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. Neither the United States, nor Israel, our Gulf partners, a volatile Middle East, or anyone in the world can risk that danger. I believe it is our responsibility to avoid that threat.