Maryland senators split on Iran deal

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Maryland’s two Democratic senators have come down on opposite sides of the Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) favors the Iran nuclear deal. File photo.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced her support of the deal, officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, on Wednesday, providing President Barack Obama the final Senate vote he needs to sustain a promised veto should Congress pass a resolution of disapproval.


Two days later, Sen. Ben Cardin declared he would vote against the JCPOA. Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was instrumental in crafting the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which gave Congress the right to review and vote on the deal.

Writing in the op-ed section of The Washington Post on Friday, Maryland’s junior senator said it was a “close call” but after lengthy review he decided to disapprove the deal.

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“The JCPOA legitimizes Iran’s nuclear program. After 10 to 15 years, it would leave Iran with the option to produce enough enriched fuel for a nuclear weapon in a short time.”

He continued, “The JCPOA would provide this legal path to a country that remains a rogue state and has violated its international nonproliferation obligations for years. It would provide Iran with international endorsement of an industrial-scale nuclear program. Worse, Iran would be economically strengthened by frighteningly quick relief from sanctions and international economic engagement.”


Under the terms of the deal, JCPOA needs to be implemented “in good faith” and with “mutual respect.”

“But there cannot be respect for a country that actively foments regional instability, advocates for Israel’s destruction, kills the innocent and shouts ‘Death to America,’” he said.

Cardin at UMD
Sen. Ben Cardin announced his opposition to the Iran deal on Friday. Earlier that day he discussed the deal with students at the University of Maryland. Photo courtesy of Sen. Ben Cardin.

He further used the op-ed to outline legislation that would strengthen the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act and U.S. regional security strategy. Cardin’s proposed legislation, among other goals, would clarify Congress’ ability to pass new sanctions on Iran for violation of human rights and ballistic missile proliferation, and demand a “comprehensive whole-of-government strategy” for how the United States works with allies in the Middle East to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“What I’m trying to do is bring congress together, recognizing at the end of the day we’re stronger if we give the president the tools he needs,” Cardin told WJW’s sister publication the Baltimore Jewish Times.

Cardin is one of only three Senate Democrats to publicly declare themselves opposed to the deal. He joined Sens. Chuck Schumer, also Jewish, of New York, and Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

Mikulski and Cardin spoke about the deal frequently.

“She made her independent judgment and I know it was tough decision for her, one which she believed was the right one. I don’t question her,” said Cardin.

In explaining her support of the deal, Mikulski said in a statement, “Some have suggested we reject this deal and impose unilateral sanctions to force Iran back to the table. But maintaining or stepping up sanctions will only work if the sanction coalition holds together.” She doubted whether America’s European allies, let alone Russia and China, would continue the sanctions regime.

“At best, sanctions would be porous, or limited to unilateral sanctions by the U.S.,” she said.

Mikulski also rejected a military option, saying it would only set Iran’s nuclear program back by three years.

“Iran would almost certainly use Hizballah or other proxies to attack Israel or conduct terrorist- or cyber-attacks against U.S. interests. The military option is always on the table for the United States. We are not afraid to use it,” she said. “But military action should be the last resort, since it will have only temporary effects versus the longer-term effects of this deal.”

Mikulski, who will retire at the end of her current term, called on Congress to reaffirm its commitment to “the safety and security of Israel.”

Marc Shapiro contributed to this report.

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