(CNSNews.com) – In a significant setback for the Obama administration’s no-holds-barred lobbying for its nuclear agreement with Iran, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), in line to be the next Democratic leader in the Senate, announced Thursday he will vote against the deal.
“After deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval,” Schumer said in a lengthy statement.
He argued that those who believe that Iran will moderate and soften its positions as a result of the easing isolation should approve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while those who don’t believe that “should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.”
“To me, the very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great,” Schumer said.
“Therefore, I will vote to disapprove the agreement, not because I believe war is a viable or desirable option, nor to challenge the path of diplomacy. It is because I believe Iran will not change, and under this agreement it will be able to achieve its dual goals of eliminating sanctions while ultimately retaining its nuclear and non-nuclear power.”
Also coming out publicly against the JCPOA Thursday was another influential Democrat on the Hill, Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which has held a series of hearings on the deal.
“The answers I’ve received [about the agreement] simply don’t convince me that this deal will keep a nuclear weapon out of Iran’s hands, and may in fact strengthen Iran’s position as a destabilizing and destructive influence across the Middle East,” Engel said in a statement quoted by Reuters.
In his statement, Schumer raised concerns about limitations on inspections of Iranian sites, and what he called the “cumbersome and difficult” process of trying to restore sanctions, should Iran cheat.
Looking further ahead, he said that under the JCPOA, after 10-15 years Iran will be better placed to pursue a nuclear weapons capability.
“After fifteen years of relief from sanctions, Iran would be stronger financially and better able to advance a robust nuclear program. Even more importantly, the agreement would allow Iran, after ten to fifteen years, to be a nuclear threshold state with the blessing of the world community,” he said.
“Iran would have a green light to be as close, if not closer to possessing a nuclear weapon than it is today. And the ability to thwart Iran if it is intent on becoming a nuclear power would have less moral and economic force.”
But the elements of the JCPOA that gave him “the most pause,” Schumer said, were the “non-nuclear components and consequences,” including the likelihood that Iran will use its financial windfall under the deal to promote terrorism and destabilizing military activity in the region, and enhance its intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities.
“When it comes to the non-nuclear aspects of the deal, I think there is a strong case that we are better off without an agreement than with one,” he said.
Schumer is poised to be the next Democratic leader in the Senate after Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) retires at the end of next year.
The loss of Schumer and Engel, both pro-Israel, Jewish Democrats from New York, will be a blow to the administration’s efforts to prevent Democrats from voting with Republican majorities in the House and Senate when resolutions of disapproval are considered next month.
With the Israeli government the most outspoken critic of the JCPOA, American Jewish leaders have been a key target of the administration’s campaign to sell the deal, which it negotiated with five other powers and Iran.
If every Republican in the two chambers votes to reject the agreement, another 44 Democrats in the House, and 13 in the Senate, will need to join them in order to override a veto already promised by the White House.
In recent days several prominent Democrats have declared their intention to vote to reject the agreement, including Reps. Steve Israel (N.Y.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.) and Ted Deutch (Fla.).
Others have come out in support of the deal, including Sens. Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Tim Kaine (Va.) and Bill Nelson (Fla.).
One senior Democrat whose verdict is awaited with anticipation is Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-author with committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) of the legislation allowing Congress to review and vote on the Iran deal.