Rep. Paul Tonko said in a statement Wednesday that he will support the Iran nuclear deal, describing it as "far from perfect," but "far better than any available alternative."
"The objective in these negotiations was to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Tonko said of the landmark agreement reached last month between Iran, the United States and five other world powers. "This deal achieves that."
Tonko's reasoning paralleled that of President Barack Obama in announcing the deal: It prevents Iran from ever building a nuclear weapon, and establishes sufficient safeguards (including international inspections) to virtually guarantee Iran cannot cheat.
The deal is built on inspection and verification, not trust, and requires Iran to dismantle two-thirds of its centrifuges for enriching uranium and remove more than 97 percent of its uranium stockpile, said Tonko, an Amsterdam Democrat.
And other nations that signed the agreement — including Russia and China — will not be bound by the U.S. reimposing sanctions if Washington walks away, he said. Also, "no deal would mean no inspections and no constraints on Iran's nuclear ambitions."
If Iran fails to live up to its obligations, sanctions "snap back" into place, he added.
Tonko's statement was in sharp contrast to Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who rocked the White House's hopes for unified Democratic support earlier this month when he came out against the deal. Schumer said it lacked sufficient safeguards to guarantee Israel's security.
Because Republicans are virtually unified, Obama needs all the Democratic support he can get on Capitol Hill in order to build a "firewall" against GOP resolutions of disapproval.
In the Senate, according to a Washington Post tally, 24 senators support the deal and 7 are leaning toward support, while 20 senators are opposed and 37 are leaning "no." The positions of 12 senators are either unknown or unclear, the Post tally showed.
Among the points of contention is the agreement's 24-day window before inspectors are permitted into disputed sites where bomb-making activity may be taking place.
Obama and other supporters of the deal have argued that bomb-making would be hard to cover up because radioactivity emitted by nuclear material is traceable.
Tonko agreed with that logic. International inspectors and U.S. intelligence "will be monitoring the site until access is granted," he said. "This will prevent Iran from developing covert sites throughout the nuclear supply chain."
By contrast, Schumer argued that the 24-day delay permits Iran to develop "the tools that go into building a bomb but don't emit radioactivity."
The administration suffered another blow Wednesday when The Associated Press reported on a draft side deal between the International Atomic Energy Agency — which conducts inspections in partnership with the UN — and Iran that permits an Iranian investigation of a site where the Islamic Republic has been suspected of developing nuclear weapons.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has said she favors the deal.
"Iran has signed on to a sufficiently verifiable and enforceable deal that cuts off all paths to a bomb," she said Aug. 6, the same day Schumer came out opposed. "A deal like this ... was unimaginable just a few years ago."
On the House side, Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, have both declared opposition to the deal.
"Having led troopers in combat against forces backed by Iran, and having met with stakeholders from across the region, I believe the administration erred in approving this agreement," said Gibson, who served 24 years in the Army and retired as a colonel before winning a House seat in 2010. "No one wants peace more than a former soldier, but this document does not ensure that we achieve our goals for peace in a way that can be verified."
Gibson and Stefanik are co-sponsors of a House resolution opposing the deal.
The two also were among the 367 House members who signed a bipartisan letter in March to Obama that said any deal should last for decades, and include full disclosure of Iran's previous bomb-building efforts and "short-notice" access to all suspected nuclear sites. "I believe the deal made by the president would not meet these standards," Stefanik said Wednesday. "This is a bad deal and I will vote against it when it comes before Congress."