Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton welcomed the nuclear deal with Iran but emphasized that enforcement would be crucial, adding she had concerns about Tehran’s “bad behavior.”
“This is a very important moment,” the former U.S. secretary of state said, speaking at the U.S. Capitol after meeting with House of Representatives Democrats. “I think this is an important step that puts the lid on Iran’s nuclear programs.”
At the same time, Clinton emphasized 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 would be “absolutely devoted to ensuring that agreement is followed.”
Clinton’s careful remarks on Tuesday illustrated the delicacy of the issue for her.
As the former chief diplomat of the Obama administration, she 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.
She also made clear that apart from the nuclear deal she would push to hold Iran accountable for state-sponsored terrorism and human-rights abuses. And she said she continued to view Iran as an “existential threat to Israel.”
When she was Obama’s rival in the 2008 election, Clinton was emphatic about retaliating against Iran should it ever launch an attack on Israel.
“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran,” if it launches a strike against Israel, she said in a 2008 interview, adding that the United States “would be able to totally obliterate them.”
Clinton cannot risk alienating wealthy Jewish donors, some of whom may worry that the new deal further endangers Israel.
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 skepticism about the agreement going forward, but added he believes Clinton shares it.
“The skepticism is there. We’re all skeptical,” 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 maneuvering room. Despite Republican efforts to vilify Obama’s foreign policy, the president garnered about 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2012, suggesting that many American Jews are far from being single-issue voters primarily focused on Israel’s security.