Senator Chuck Schumer
Senator Chuck SchumerReuters

Senator Chuck Schumer on Monday told a local audience in New York his decision to oppose the Iran nuclear deal was one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever had to make as a senator, the Buffalo News reported.

In the end, however, Schumer told the Wyoming County crowd, he believes his decision boiled down to one main issue.

“If you think the government of Iran will moderate over the next few years, then maybe it’s OK,” he said. “If you think they will not moderate, then it’s not OK.”

Schumer (D-NY), believes that Iranian leaders will not moderate their position over the next decade, that their real goal is relief from economic sanctions, while retaining their nuclear ambitions and increasing their belligerence throughout the Middle East.

His remarks Monday, in Wyoming County and the Rochester suburb of Greece, were his first public comments after he announced Friday that he would oppose the agreement, noted the Buffalo News.

Instead of Congress approving the nuclear deal, Schumer said he believes it’s better to keep and strengthen U.S. sanctions on Iran, enforce secondary sanctions on other nations and return to the negotiating table.

“The alternative does not have to be war,” he said. “It could be increased negotiations, as difficult as they are.”

His decision came down to a close call, and the senator said he doesn’t begrudge anyone who comes down on the other side of the issue.

“But I think we can do better,” he added.

Schumer said he diligently studied the proposed nuclear deal with Iran, reading it three times, meeting with many officials and engaging in classified briefings. He insisted that he made his decision without regard to “press, politics or party.”

New York’s senior senator on Monday swatted away any reporters’ questions about the political ramifications of his decision, including any difficulty it might pose for him in trying to move up the ranks among Senate Democrats.

For both him and his colleagues, this was a decision of conscience, he said, according to the Buffalo News.

“I think people respect decisions of conscience,” he added.

Schumer was asked twice how much of a role his longtime support of Israel and his close ties with the Jewish community may have played in his decision.

“Israel is an ally of ours, and that would enter into it,” he said, but first and foremost his concern is with the interests of the United States.

Schumer’s announcement on Friday came several days after reports emerged that he would oppose the deal following a strenuous campaign pressuring him to do so.

More than 10,000 phone calls have flooded Schumer's office line the past two weeks, while another group has shelled out a seven figure sum for TV ads in New York City to pressure Schumer and other lawmakers to vote against the plan.

Several other Democratic lawmakers, including Reps. Nita Lowey and Steve Israel, both of New York, and Ted Deutch of Florida have announced their opposition to the Iran deal. A number of Democrats, however, have voiced support for the deal, the latest being Senator Brian Schatz from Hawaii.

Congress continues to review the deal that was reached last month between Iran and six world powers and has until September 17 to accept or reject it. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto any legislation passed by Congress blocking the deal.