In Letter, Obama Tells Congress U.S. Will Still Press Iran

WASHINGTON — In his most comprehensive effort to assure wavering Democrats, President Obama wrote in a letter to Congress that the United States would unilaterally maintain economic pressure and deploy military options if needed to deter Iranian aggression, both during and beyond the proposed nuclear accord.

The Aug. 19 letter, obtained by The New York Times, is addressed to Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, but is also aimed at other Democrats with concerns about the deal. For Mr. Obama, it reflects steps the administration could take outside the agreement. The president has repeatedly said that the deal reached by Iran and six world powers cannot be changed.

While many of the promises have been made before by Mr. Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and others, White House officials say the letter represents the first time that the president himself has compiled them under his name and in writing. It commits explicitly to establishing an office within the State Department to carry out the nuclear accord.

In addition, Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that the letter expanded assurances that sanctions lifted under the nuclear accord could be reimposed piece by piece, not all at once, to keep Iran in compliance. Mr. Obama’s pledge to use the multinational commission policing the accord to block Iranian procurement of nuclear-related technology is new, as is the president’s explicit pledge “to enhance the already intensive joint efforts” of the United States and Israel in the region, said Mr. Schiff, a supporter of the deal.

“Should Iran seek to dash toward a nuclear weapon, all of the options available to the United States — including the military option — will remain available through the life of the deal and beyond,” Mr. Obama wrote.

He pledged to increase missile defense funding for Israel, accelerate co-development of missile defense systems, and boost tunnel detection and mapping technologies. He also vowed to increase cooperation with Israel and Persian Gulf allies to counter Iran’s efforts to destabilize Yemen, its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and its efforts preserve the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The letter comes as supporters of the nuclear deal close in on the number of lawmakers they need to sustain a presidential veto of Republican-led efforts to block it. The announcements of support by moderate Democrats from Republican-leaning states, such as Senators Claire McCaskill of Missouri on Thursday and Joe Donnelly of Indiana on Wednesday, have changed the dynamic of the Iran debate. “This was not an easy call. It was a close call,” Ms. McCaskill said Thursday. “It’s wrong for anybody, including the president, to accuse those who don’t support this deal of bad faith or warmongering.”

With 26 Senate Democrats declaring their support for the accord, and five others leaning toward supporting it, it is becoming increasingly difficult for opponents of the deal in the Senate to find the 67 votes needed to override a veto.

The president and Democratic leaders are now pressing for a more convincing vote. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the minority leader, is coordinating efforts to secure enough Democratic support to sustain a veto, through “Dear colleague” letters from respected members and assurances from outside experts. A two-thirds vote to override is also required in the House, and if the vote falls short in either chamber, the agreement goes through.

“I need to have 146 to win,” Ms. Pelosi said in an interview. “Do I want more? Yes. I want more because I want this to be unifying,”

So far, only two Senate Democrats — Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — have declared their opposition to the deal. That raises the possibility that a resolution of disapproval, to be voted on around Sept. 16, could fail to get the 60 votes needed to break afilibuster, ending any threat of a veto showdown.

Mr. Obama’s letter could solidify support. Of the 14 House and Senate Democrats who have come out against the deal, nine are from New York and New Jersey. Addressing Mr. Nadler could stanch that bleeding.

By This article was written by for The New York Times on AUG. 20, 2o15.