WASHINGTON — Representative Seth Moulton announced Saturday that he would support the Iranian nuclear agreement, offering a potentially key Democratic voice to one of the most important — and controversial — foreign policy debates in more than a decade.
Moulton, a former Marine who served four tours in Iraq, has been among the Democrats targeted by the White House in a lobbying campaign that so far has led to only a handful of public supporters.
Moulton was among a small group invited to the Situation Room last week for a briefing from President Obama, who in recent days has urged Democrats to begin speaking out in favor.
“It is not a perfect deal, and it is easy to point out the many ways in which it could theoretically be stronger,” Moulton, a Salem Democrat, said in a lengthy statement explaining his decision. “That being said, it is by far the best viable option before us.”
Moulton is among the first in the all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation to declare outright support for the deal, with most saying they are still studying aspects of the accord. Representative Stephen Lynch of South Boston plans to support it, according to a spokeswoman, while Representative Michael Capuano of Somerville is “leaning strongly in favor.”
Secretary of State John Kerry signed off on a deal last month that would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. The accord was the result of years of discussions, capped by 18 days in Vienna, with the United States joined by Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. Kerry has argued that it will enhance current inspections, and provide a peaceful way to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
But the agreement has been heavily criticized by opponents who say it contains a weak inspections regime that could allow Iran to cheat and hide nuclear material to build a bomb. The deal also will provide an influx of cash and, with weapons embargoes that will expire within five or eight years, allow Iran to fund such militant groups as Hezbollah and Hamas, imperiling other countries, particularly Israel.
The Republican-controlled Congress has been given 60 days to review the deal and pass a resolution of disapproval before it begins to take effect. Such a resolution appears likely to pass, but given a veto threat from Obama, GOP leaders will need to amass at least a two-thirds majority, which would have to include Democrats, for an override.
Moulton was in the first Marine company to enter Baghdad in 2003 and made his background a key component in his run for Congress last year, vowing to try to fix problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs and prevent another costly war.
“As a combat veteran who has seen fellow Americans killed in Iraq by the weapons and influence of the Iranian regime, I understand firsthand the threat Iran poses to America and our allies,” Moulton, who is on the House Armed Services Committee, said Saturday. “The United States and the international community must prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
Moulton said he is confident that the inspections regime would be effective, providing the international community with more detail about Iran’s nuclear program, as well as enough ability to determine whether Iran decides to cheat and build a weapon anyway.
He also said he came to the conclusion that there were only two alternatives to accepting the deal: increasing current sanctions, or taking military action. Increasing the current sanctions would not longer be effective, in his view, because other major world powers are now in favor of the deal and unlikely to join in an effort to enhance sanctions.
“Taking military action against Iran would only set Iran’s nuclear program back five years at most, reaffirm their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and drive the program underground,” Moulton said.
He will be traveling with a congressional delegation to Israel in coming days and among the meetings on the schedule is one with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of the deal.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.