Hillary Clinton is going to bat for the Iran nuclear deal

Hillary ClintonChip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesDemocratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives for a meeting with Senate Democrats at the U.S. Capitol July 14, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Hillary Clinton has embraced the nuclear deal reached between Iran, the US and several other world powers Tuesday.

“I support this agreement because I believe it is the most effective path of all the alternatives available to the U.S. and our partners to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” Clinton said in a statement released by her campaign late Tuesday night.

The statement was unequivocal in its lauding of Obama and Kerry for getting the deal done, saying Americans should “applaud” them. At same time, Clinton was careful to name-check military support of Israel, assert that strict enforcement was key to the deal’s success, and acknowledge Iran’s problematic posture in the Middle East as a whole.

In remarks made earlier in the day on Capitol Hill, the 2016 Democratic presidential candidate highlighted her founding role in generating dialogue with Tehran.

“As Secretary of State, I logged tens of thousands of miles and twisted a lot of arms to build a global coalition to impost the most crippling sanctions in history,” Clinton said.

Clinton, keen to tout her experience in diplomatic affairs, said the “unprecedented pressure” of those sanctions throttled Iran’s economy enough to give the US leverage in negotiations as early as 2012.

She hailed the resulting deal, most recently spearheaded by current Secretary of State John Kerry, while emphasising the importance of keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran’s reach.

Clinton emphasised that rigorous policing of the deal, including unfettered access to key Iranian nuclear sites, would be critical to its success. If elected president next year, she said she would be “absolutely devoted to ensuring that agreement is followed.”

Kerry iran talksREUTERS/Carlos BarriaU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with foreign ministers of Germany, France, China, Britain, Russia and the European Union during the Iran Talks meetings at a hotel in Vienna, Austria July 7, 2015.

While most of Clinton’s Republican rivals trained their criticism of the deal on President Barack Obama, some took shots at Clinton’s role, a likely line of attack in the weeks to come as the pact is debated in Congress and on the campaign trail.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said Clinton “will have to justify to the American people why she supports allowing a known state sponsor of terrorism to move toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

And should that happen, Clinton will likely take some of the blame, critics of the deal said.

“She certainly will own it,” said Tzvi Kahn, a senior analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, a conservative think tank. “If the deal unravels, if the deal ultimately enables Iran to get the bomb in the long term, I think she will be perceived as sharing some of the responsibility for it.”

How that would translate politically, however, remains unclear. Polls have shown Americans generally to be in favour of a deal, while also expressing deep pessimism that the Iranians can be trusted to go along with it.

Jewish donors

Iran nuclear celebration

AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi
Young Iranian men cheer and show victory sign with a picture of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reading “Zarif is Mosaddegh of our time,” comparing Zarif to Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s legendary prime minister during the 1950s who nationalized the country’s oil industry, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, July 14, 2015.

As the former chief diplomat of the Obama administration, Clinton has taken care to avoid diverging from the White House on foreign policy. At the same time, she has long spoken more forcefully than the president about confronting Tehran.

In what might be viewed as an attempt to blunt future attacks from the likes of GOP contenders, Clinton made clear that she would hold Iran accountable for state-sponsored terrorism and human-rights abuses. And she said she continues to view Iran as “an existential threat to Israel.”

Clinton cannot risk alienating wealthy Jewish donors, some of whom may worry that the new deal further endangers Israel. In her statement late Tuesday night, she said she would invite “senior Israeli leadership to Washington for early talks on further strengthening our alliance.”

David Golder, a Clinton donor in Chicago, praised her “pragmatic” response.

“I think if you look at engaged members of the Jewish community, they expect a good deal with Iran that doesn’t put the U.S. or Israel at risk and defines for all of us what that means,” he said. “There is a wide range of opinion in the Jewish community on the critical structure of these steps.”

Jack Rosen, a Clinton donor in New York, expressed scepticism about the agreement going forward, but added he believes Clinton shares it.

“The scepticism is there. We’re all sceptical,” Rosen said. “She’s well aware of Iran’s history, and there’s still a very important second step which is to make sure Iran adheres to the deal.

Clinton enjoys some manoeuvring room. Despite Republican efforts to vilify Obama’s foreign policy, the president garnered about 70 per cent of the Jewish vote in 2012, suggesting that many American Jews are far from being single-issue voters primarily focused on Israel’s security.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/APFormer Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Here’s Clinton’s full statement:

“I am still studying the details, but based on the briefings I received and a review of the documents, I support the agreement because it can help us prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. With vigorous enforcement, unyielding verification, and swift consequences for any violations, this agreement can make the United States, Israel, and our Arab partners safer.

In light of the international community’s long history and experience with Iranian behaviour, the highest priority must be given to effective enforcement of the agreement. Signing is just the beginning. As President, I would use every tool in our arsenal to compel rigorous Iranian compliance. At the outset, we must see the verified roll back of the Iranian nuclear program required by the agreement. We can never permit Iran to evade its obligations or to place any suspicious site off limits to inspectors. And the response to any cheating must be immediate and decisive – starting with the return of sanctions but taking no options off the table, including, if necessary, our military options.

The message to Iran should be loud and clear: We will never allow you to acquire a nuclear weapon; not just during the term of this agreement – never.

Today’s agreement is the culmination of a sustained strategy of pressure and engagement executed over many years. As Secretary of State, I logged tens of thousands of miles and twisted a lot of arms to build a global coalition to impose the most crippling sanctions in history. That unprecedented pressure delivered a blow to Iran’s economy and gave us leverage at the negotiating table, starting in Oman in 2012. I know from experience what it took to build a global effort to get this done; I know what it will take to rally our partners to enforce it.

Going forward, we have to be clear-eyed when it comes to the broader threat Iran represents. Even with a nuclear agreement, Iran poses a real challenge to the United States and our partners and a grave threat to our ally Israel. It continues to destabilize countries from Yemen to Lebanon, while exacerbating the conflict in Syria. It is developing missiles that can strike every country in the Middle East. And it fuels terrorism throughout the region and beyond, including through direct support to Hamas and Hizballah. We have to broadly confront and raise the costs for Iran’s destabilizing activities, insist on the return of U.S. citizens being held in Iranian prisons, and strengthen security cooperation with our allies and partners. Sanctions for terrorism, and other non-nuclear sanctions, must remain a key part of our strategy and must be vigorously enforced.

Israel has to be confident that the United States will always ensure its Qualitative Military Edge in the region and its capacity to defend itself by itself. As President, I would invite the senior Israeli leadership to Washington for early talks on further strengthening our alliance. We must also deepen our security relationship with our Arab partners threatened by Iran. This includes our continued presence and providing needed capabilities. Iran should have no doubt about our support for the security of our partners.

I know that there are people of good faith who oppose this deal – people I respect. They raise concerns that have to be taken seriously. They are right to call for extreme vigilance. I am as familiar with Iranian behaviour and the need to confront it as anyone. I support this agreement because I believe it is the most effective path of all the alternatives available to the U.S. and our partners to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

So we should applaud President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Secretary Moniz for getting this done, and proceed with wisdom and strength in enforcing this deal to the fullest and in meeting the broader Iranian challenge.

(Reuters reporting by James Oliphant, Amanda Becker, and Emily Flitter)

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