WASHINGTON • United States President Barack Obama's hopes of preserving the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers were dealt a setback when one of the top Democrats in the US Senate said he would oppose the agreement.
Senator Chuck Schumer's opposition, announced in a lengthy statement on Thursday, could pave the way for more Democrats to come out against the nuclear pact announced on July 1 between the US, five other world powers and Iran.
The New York senator is among the most influential Jewish lawmakers in the US. He was the first Senate Democrat to announce his opposition to the agreement.
Another influential Jewish lawmaker, US Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, also said on Thursday he would oppose the nuclear pact.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pushing lawmakers to oppose the nuclear agreement, which he considers a threat to his country's survival. Some pro-Israel groups have also been spending millions of dollars on an advertising campaign to push members of Congress to vote "no".
While I completely respect everybody's individual right to make a choice, I obviously disagree with the choice made.
US SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY, on the two lawmakers' opposition to the deal
Mr Obama, in a combative speech on Wednesday, said abandoning the agreement would open up the prospect of war.
At a news conference on a visit to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the deal on the US side, said he respected Mr Schumer and Mr Engel but added that "rejection is not a policy for the future".
"It does not offer any alternative and many people in arms control and others have actually pointed that out. While I completely respect everybody's individual right to make a choice, I obviously disagree with the choice made," he said.
The US Congress has until Sept 17 to consider a resolution of disapproval of the Iran deal, which would eliminate Mr Obama's ability to waive all sanctions on Iran imposed by the US Congress, a key component of the agreement. Lawmakers will begin debating when they return from their August recess on Sept 8.
Mr Schumer insisted he was not influenced by party or politics and had not been pressured.
Mr Obama has promised a veto if the resolution is passed by the House and Senate.
Republicans would need at least 13 Democrats in the Senate and 44 in the House to vote against Mr Obama to muster the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override a veto. So, while Thursday's announcements are a blow to the President, opponents of the deal still face an uphill battle to enact a disapproval resolution.
Several Democrats in the House and Senate have already come out in favour of the nuclear deal, including Mrs Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader. Mr Schumer's colleague from New York, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, announced her support on Thursday.
Mr Schumer said lawmakers would come to their own conclusions but he would try to persuade other senators to vote against the Iran deal.