With a month left before the deadline for U.S. Congress to vote on the international deal limiting Iran's nuclear program, President Barack Obama appears to have lost his only chance to get any Republican support for the agreement.
Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a main target of White House lobbying, said Saturday that while he supported the negotiation process with Iran, he will vote against the deal.
Flake said the benefits of limiting Iran's nuclear ability for a period of time do not outweigh what he called "severe limitations" the deal puts on Congress and future presidential administrations "in responding to Iran's non-nuclear behavior in the region."
"Hoping that Iran's nuclear ambitions might change after a 15-year sabbatical might be a bet worth making," Flake said in a statement. "Believing that Iran's regional behavior will change tomorrow -- while giving up tools to deter or modify such behavior -- is not."
At the close of the negotiations in mid-July, Congress began a 60-day review period during which it can vote to approve or reject the deal.
Voting "no" would mean not lifting congressionally imposed sanctions, which would go against part of what Iran would gain in exchange for limiting its nuclear activity.
Obama has promised to use his veto power if the House of Representatives and Senate reject the pact negotiated between Iran and a group of six world powers that also included Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.
Without Republican support, the president will need support from Democrats who make up a minority in the House and the Senate in order to prevent both from overriding the veto.
But an override would take a two-thirds majority in both chambers, a high threshold that will be difficult for opponents of the deal to reach.
Republicans hold 54 of the Senate's 100 seats and would need at least 13 Democrats to vote no. So far, just Senator Chuck Schumer has said he will oppose the deal, while 20 Senate Democrats have said they will support it.
The Senate will begin its debate when Congress reconvenes on September 8.
House of Representatives
Meanwhile, in the House, Republicans hold 247 of the 435 seats, meaning they need 43 Democrats to join their side. Ten House Democrats say they will reject the agreement, while 46 have pledged their support.
Iran cannot get full relief from the sanctions that have hurt its economy until the U.N. nuclear agency says the government has complied with requests in a longstanding probe of its past nuclear activity, as well as new measure to shrink its current atomic program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency came to an agreement with Iran last month to wrap up its investigation by December and issue a final assessment on allegations that Iran worked to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran has long insisted its program is solely for peaceful purposes.
The IAEA said Saturday that Iran had met a deadline to turn over documents linked to the investigation.
"Iran today provided the IAEA with its explanation in writing and related documents as agreed in the road map for the clarification of past and present outstanding issues regarding Iran's nuclear program," the IAEA said on Saturday, confirming Iran had met a deadline.
Denials of work
The information also included a confidential explanation that is not likely to veer from previous Iranian denials of work on such weapons.
The investigation has been deadlocked for years with Iran asserting the allegations about the possible militarization of its past nuclear activities are based on false intelligence from the U.S., Israel and other adversaries.
Western diplomats from IAEA member nations who are familiar with the probe are doubtful that Iran will diverge from claiming that all its nuclear activities are -- and were -- peaceful, despite what they say is evidence to the contrary.
The IAEA says it takes no information at face value.
Under the road map, the IAEA could ask Tehran to provide more clarification by October 15 so the agency can write a final report by the end of the year.
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