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Hillary Clinton Backs Iran Nuclear Deal, With Caveats

Video The Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton backed the Iran deal in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington on Wednesday.
September 9, 2015

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday embraced the Iran nuclear deal that she paved the way for as secretary of state, but said it would work only “as part of a larger strategy toward Iran” that contained the power Tehran may gain as sanctions are lifted and billions of dollars flow back into the country.

Mrs. Clinton’s speech, at the Brookings Institution, amounted to a strong endorsement of the deal struck by President Obama and her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, though one laced with skepticism about Iran’s intentions.

“Diplomacy is not the pursuit of perfection, it is the balancing of risk,” she said, arguing that the risks of walking away from a deal that she acknowledged she helped shape would turn the United States, not Iran, into the international outlier.

But most of her speech was an effort to navigate a careful line between claiming credit for the deal but also expressing skepticism by positioning herself as tougher than her former boss, more devoted to protecting Israel and as the candidate best positioned to take on Iran’s challenge and influence in the Middle East.

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“Distrust and verify,” would be her approach, she insisted, turning Ronald Reagan’s famous “trust but verify” line about the Soviet Union on its head. She went on to describe Iran as a “ruthless, brutal regime,” words far harsher than Mr. Obama has used as he has sought to coax the Iranians along in the years of perilous diplomacy. She added, “I will not hesitate to take military action” if Iran seeks to obtain a bomb despite its commitments, a deliberately stronger formulation than Mr. Obama’s “all options are on the table.”

On a day when the Republican candidates Donald J. Trump and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas held a joint rally against a deal they’ve called “catastrophic,” Mrs. Clinton highlighted her foreign policy experience and measured approach to problem solving in getting the Iranians to the negotiating table. “Several Republicans boast they’ll tear up this agreement in 2017,” she said. “That’s not leadership, that’s recklessness.”

She also took shots at former Vice President Dick Cheney, who spoke against the deal on Tuesday, reminding her audience of invited guests that the Iranian nuclear program surged ahead during the Bush administration.

But a full endorsement of the controversial deal would have left many voters dissatisfied, and Mrs. Clinton took several opportunities to draw contrasts between her approach to Middle East policy and that of Mr. Obama. She reiterated her call to arm the moderate Syrian rebels, a point of contention with the White House when she served as secretary of state, and she said the United States did not do enough to support the youth protests that erupted in Syrian in 2009.

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Answering questions after the speech, Mrs. Clinton sharply criticized President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia amid reports that Russia now has troops in Syria. She accused Mr. Putin of “czar-like behavior” and said the United States and Europe must stop “dancing around Putin,” an implied criticism of Mr. Obama’s approach.

Mrs. Clinton’s promise to “confront them across the board” appeared part of an effort to answer one of the chief criticisms of the deal: that the resumed flow of oil revenue into Iran will help it fund proxies like Hezbollah and embolden the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to conduct what Mrs. Clinton described as “cyberattacks or other nontraditional attacks.” So, she said, the deal must be a starting point of a new American containment strategy.

A crucial part of that strategy, as she described it, would be a stepped-up effort to contain Iran’s military activity in Syria and around the Middle East, and new restrictions on conventional arms to Iran. (She did not mention one of Mr. Kerry’s last concessions, made in July during talks in Vienna, which included the expiration, over eight years, of United Nations embargoes on missile and other conventional arms sales.)

But while she described what amounts to an effort to impose anew, on terrorism grounds, sanctions that Iran expects to be lifted under the nuclear accord, she followed a careful path. For example, while she promised to sell F-35 fighter jets and missile defenses to Israel, she said nothing about selling the Israelis the United States’ most powerful bunker-busting bomb, the only one that can get into Iran’s deep underground sites, or the B-2 bomber that would be needed to drop it.

Still, with some of her strongest political support coming from American Jews who are skeptical of the deal and its impact on Israel, Mrs. Clinton went further than Mr. Obama in reassuring them. She said she would invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to the White House in her first month in office — a contrast to Mr. Obama who did not visit Israel in his first term. “Israel has every reason to be alarmed by a regime that both denies its existence and seeks its destruction,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Unlike Mr. Obama’s speech at American University in July, part of his effort to sell the deal, Mrs. Clinton’s talk on Wednesday was worked from the assumption that Iran will attempt to violate the deal. “We need to be prepared for three scenarios,” she said. “First, Iran tries to cheat.” The second risk, she said, was that the Iranians would seek to “wait us out” until the world is distracted, and then resume their efforts to enrich uranium, produce plutonium or develop a weapon.

And the third was that Iran would seek to flex its muscles abroad. “We shouldn’t expect that this deal will lead to broader changes in their behavior,” she said.

But she also took shots at former Vice President Dick Cheney, reminding her audience of invited guests that the Iranian nuclear program surged ahead during the George W. Bush administration. And she chastised the several Republican presidential candidates who have declared that they would tear up the Iran agreement in their first days in office.

“That’s not leadership,” she said. “That’s recklessness.”

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(via NY Times)