WASHINGTON — As Secretary of State John Kerry made a second appearance before highly skeptical lawmakers to press for approval of the nuclear deal with Iran, the longest-serving Jewish member of Congress said Tuesday that he would support the accord.
In announcing his decision, Representative Sander M. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, referred to his strong record of support for Israel.
"Israel's security has and always will be of critical importance to me and our country," Levin said in a lengthy statement. "I believe that Israel, the region, and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon. I believe the agreement is the best way to achieve that.''
"If Iran broke out of the agreement and proceeded to build a nuclear weapon, the US and its allies would retain all options to stop it, including the military option,'' Levin said.
"In my view, the only anchors in public life are to dig deeply into the facts and consult," he said.
Levin's statement was circulated by Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic minority leader, who is trying to round up Democratic support for the deal in the House.
Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday grilled Kerry and two other Cabinet secretaries: Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. The three were sent to Capitol Hill for the second time by President Obama to defend the agreement.
Many Republicans have already lined up against the accord and some Democrats rushed in early to defend it. But the administration is deeply concerned about congressional Democrats — especially Jewish members and those who hail from heavily Jewish districts — who have expressed skepticism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has called the agreement a ''historic mistake.'' Israel's ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, met with the House Republicans last week to urge them to "leave everything on the field" to derail the accord.
In a demonstration of the tension over the issue, Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, and Representative Eliot L. Engel, a New York Democrat and a ranking member on the committee, both sounded notes of alarm Tuesday.
''Iran has cheated on every agreement they've signed,'' Royce said.
Noting that "barely a week after the deal" was announced, the supreme leader of Iran called publicly for "death to America," Engel asked, "How can we trust Iran when this type of thing happens?"
Congress has 60 days to review the deal, after which it can pass a resolution of approval or disapproval — or do nothing. Obama would veto a resolution of disapproval, and the opponents could override that only with a two-thirds vote of Congress.
The White House and some Democratic allies in Congress are working to prevent a veto override or even a resolution of disapproval at all; the latter seems highly unlikely in the House.
On Monday, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican majority leader, said he expected Congress to move forward on a resolution of disapproval.
Congress is expected to vote in September to prevent Obama from lifting sanctions imposed previously by lawmakers. Obama has said he will veto any bill along those lines, and the administration is trying to line up enough support to uphold the veto.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby, dispatched hundreds of its members to prod lawmakers to disapprove the deal. On the other side of the issue, seven former US diplomats and State Department officials sent a letter Monday to leaders in Congress urging them to support the pact.
Testifying about the agreement for the second time in a week, Kerry again told lawmakers that it is the only chance to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions and that failure to enact it would isolate the United States internationally.
''If Congress does not support the deal, we would see this deal die — with no other options,'' Kerry told the committee.
''I believe that Israel, the region, and the world are far more secure if Iran does not move toward possession of a nuclear weapon,'' Kerry said, adding that the agreement calls for strict inspections and contains other safeguards to deter cheating by Tehran.
Kerry said some opponents of the agreement were misconstruing or misunderstanding the details. ''Nothing in this deal is built on trust. Nothing,'' he said.
He contended that, under the verification protocols in the agreement, Iran will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon covertly without being caught by the international community.
Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has asked for additional intelligence assessments related to the agreement, the Associated Press reported.
In a letter Tuesday to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Nunes asked for an analysis of whether intelligence agencies will be able to verify Iran's compliance with the deal.