Rep. John Sarbanes said Monday he will support the pending nuclear agreement with Iran, arguing that the plan will be "effective in pulling Iran back from the threshold of becoming a nuclear weapon state."
Sarbanes' announcement came three days after Sen. Ben Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he will oppose the deal. Sarbanes becomes the fifth Democrat in Maryland to back the agreement, which lifts economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for more stringent inspections and other measures to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The Baltimore County Democrat described his vote on the agreement as one of the most important he will cast during his tenure in Congress, but he took the unusual step of announcing his position on a federal holiday -- when few were likely paying attention to his news.
Congress is expected to take up a resolution to disapprove of the deal this week, which President Barack Obama has promised to veto. The president appears to have the votes in Congress to sustain that veto.
"We should have no illusions that entering into this agreement will produce any significant near-term change in Iran's behavior as a sponsor of terrorism and a purveyor of anti-America, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric," Sarbanes said in a statement.
"Still, the question is whether this agreement, though imperfect, can alter the behavior that has most concerned the United States, Israel and the international community, namely, Iran's efforts to secure a nuclear weapon. I believe that it can."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Reps. Donna F. Edwards, Chris Van Hollen and Elijah E. Cummings have said they will back the agreement. Cardin and Rep. Andy Harris, the state's only Republican in Congress, will oppose it. Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Steny Hoyer and John Delaney -- three of the state's more centrist Democrats -- have yet to announce a position.
In a lengthy statement, Sarbanes said he is unpersuaded that the United States and other global leaders would be able to strike a better deal if they reject this one.
"The strong cooperation we received from our partners with respect to sanctions was always premised on achieving a meaningful set of restraints on Iran's nuclear activity. Our partners consider this objective to have been… and it is unrealistic to expect that they would join in a new round of sanctions if the United States rejects the deal," Sarbanes said.
"Therefore, were we to walk away in search of a better deal, the risk is that it would improve the situation not for the United States, but for Iran."
The agreement was negotiated by the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
A physician running for the GOP nomination in the 3rd congressional district, Mark Plaster, argued in a statement that Sarbanes had "turned his back on Israel and the sizable Jewish community" in the district. Plaster, of Annapolis, attended a rally organized by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC in Baltimore County last week, along with several other Republican candidates for Congress.