Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer announced yesterday that he will not support President Obama's multinational agreement with Iran intended to limit the country's nuclear weapon capabilities. "Every several years or so a legislator is called upon to cast a momentous vote in which the stakes are high and both sides of the issue are vociferous in their views," Schumer wrote in a lengthy statement released last night.

Ultimately, in my view, whether one supports or opposes the resolution of disapproval depends on how one thinks Iran will behave under this agreement.

If one thinks Iran will moderate, that contact with the West and a decrease in economic and political isolation will soften Iran’s hardline positions, one should approve the agreement. After all, a moderate Iran is less likely to exploit holes in the inspection and sanctions regime, is less likely to seek to become a threshold nuclear power after ten years, and is more likely to use its newfound resources for domestic growth, not international adventurism.

But if one feels that Iranian leaders will not moderate and their unstated but very real goal is to get relief from the onerous sanctions, while still retaining their nuclear ambitions and their ability to increase belligerent activities in the Middle East and elsewhere, then one should conclude that it would be better not to approve this agreement.

Admittedly, no one can tell with certainty which way Iran will go. It is true that Iran has a large number of people who want their government to decrease its isolation from the world and focus on economic advancement at home. But it is also true that this desire has been evident in Iran for thirty-five years, yet the Iranian leaders have held a tight and undiminished grip on Iran, successfully maintaining their brutal, theocratic dictatorship with little threat. Who’s to say this dictatorship will not prevail for another ten, twenty, or thirty years?

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.

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. Better to keep U.S. sanctions in place, strengthen them, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations, and pursue the hard-trodden path of diplomacy once more, difficult as it may be.


Under the agreement, Iran would be able to enrich uranium for the next 15 years, but the material would not be adequate to make a bomb without further processing. Major international sanctions against Iran would be lifted in exchange, effectively funneling billions of dollars to Tehran. Inspectors would be permitted to visit sites in Iran, but not without prior notice.

The accord is the fruit of a lengthy negotiation process between the Obama administration, Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. Republican leaders plan to introduce legislation next month that would scuttle the deal, and Obama has vowed to veto that legislation, but he needs 34 votes in the Senate to prevent his veto from being overridden. From the NY Times:

A veto override would be an enormous blow to the president’s prestige. It would torpedo an agreement between Iran and six powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — but it would not necessarily lead to the reimposition of crippling economic sanctions on Iran, supporters of the deal warn. With the other world powers supporting the agreement, the international sanctions regime would be likely to crumble, leaving the United States with far less effective tools to cripple Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

With so much on the line, Senate Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee like Mr. Kaine had hoped to not only rally the 34 senators needed to sustain a presidential veto, but also to possibly keep enough Democrats behind the president to filibuster a resolution of disapproval next month. To do that, they most likely could lose only five Democrats. Mr. Schumer’s break with Mr. Obama will make that far more difficult.

So far, 12 Senate Democrats and one Democratic-leaning independent, Senator Angus King of Maine, have announced their support for the deal. Two others, Senator Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, have all but announced their support.

Immediately after Schumer released his statement, New York congressman Eliot Engel announced that he too would oppose it. Other Democrats are expected to follow suit. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently in Hanoi, Vietnam, said he "profoundly disagree[s]" with Schumer's reasoning. Kerry argues that with 25 years of uranium tracking, "it is physically impossible to build a bomb. It's a question of eliminating options in a realistic way. I would respectfully suggest that rejection is not a policy for the future, it does not offer any alternative."

Progressives were angered by Schumer's decision, and MoveOn political action executive director Ilya Sheyman issued a statement saying, "No real Democratic leader does this. If this is what counts as ‘leadership’ among Democrats in the Senate, Senate Democrats should be prepared to find a new leader or few followers... In response to Senator Schumer’s decision to side with partisan war hawks,’s 8 million members are immediately launching a Democratic Party donor strike."

Schumer is in line to replace Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid when he retires next year.