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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

By Sebastien Malo

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (Reuters) — Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, in a scathing critique of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration and other major powers, announced on Tuesday that he will vote to kill the pact.

Speaking in his home state of New Jersey, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee detailed his opposition: “I will vote to disapprove the agreement and, if called upon, would vote to override a veto” by President Barack Obama, a fellow Democrat.

The Senate and House of Representatives are expected to vote sometime in September on legislation rejecting the deal with Tehran that would impose new curbs on Iran’s nuclear program while lifting economic sanctions on the country. Obama faces a tough fight in Congress defending the deal, which is also opposed by most Republicans.

With his announcement, Menendez became the second high-profile Senate Democrat to announce opposition to the Iran deal.

Earlier this month, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the third-ranking Democrat in the chamber, said he would vote against it and try to convince other senators to do the same.

Indicative of an intra-party split, Senator Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat, has come out in favor of the deal, while Democratic Leader Harry Reid is set declare his position when the Senate returns from recess Sept. 7.

The lobbying and debate in Congress over the deal is expected to become fierce when lawmakers return from its five-week summer break.

If the agreement were to go into effect, Menendez said, it would hurt national security while abandoning a long-held U.S. policy of preventing nuclear proliferation. Instead, he said, it would establish a policy of “managing” nuclear proliferation.

Despite his stance against the Iran deal, it is not clear how much his decision will influence other Democrats.

Menendez stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April amid an indictment on corruption charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

(Writing by Richard Cowan; Editing by Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey)

Photo: Senator Bob Menendez speaks at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey August 18, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid