Hempstead, N.Y. — Donald Trump repeatedly slammed Hillary Clinton over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal at the first presidential debate — but the former Secretary of State hit back that the deal has succeeded in “keeping a lid” on Tehran’s threat.
“You started the Iran deal, that’s another beauty,” Trump said to Clinton, “you have a country that was ready to fall, I mean, they were doing so badly…and now they’re going to be actually probably a major power at some point pretty soon, the way they’re going.” He later went on to call the agreement “one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history,” a “horrible deal,” and one that shows that “Hillary has experience, but it’s bad experience.”
To stress his point on the Iranian deal, the Republican presidential nominee also brought into the debate Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I met with Bibi Netanyahu the other day. Believe me, he’s not a happy camper,” he said of the Israeli leader who had strongly opposed the deal.
Clinton stood firmly behind her support for the Iranian deal, arguing that she’d “rather deal with the other problems having put that lid on their nuclear program than still to be facing that.”
Clinton tried to hit back at Trump on the Iranian issue, asking: “Would he have started a war? Would he have bombed Iran?”
Trump’s spin doctors sought to use Netanyahu’s opposition to the deal as a cudgel to attack Clinton.
”The fact that Bibi Netanyahu is a strong opponent of the Iran deal says all you need to know on whether that was a good deal for Amer the ica or for the rest of the world,” said David Friedman, one of Trump’s advisers on Israel in a spin room interview after the debate at Hofstra University.
Friedman added that Trump and Netanyahu “have a very similar world view, which is that the world needs to get tough against radical Islamism.”
Trump’s choice to focus on Iran rather than bring up the Benghazi attack which he had talked about frequently on the campaign trail, indicates he believes it is an issue that will resonate with voters and that it could shake Clinton’s standing as an experienced leader of foreign policy and national security issues.
New York Republican Peter King said that Trump has made it clear he will “find a way” to rescind the agreement, or at least make sure “they follow it in every way.”
But Democrats argue that Trump is mistaken in assuming that supporting the Iranian nuclear deal is a political liability for Clinton.
“Since the deal has gone into effect, Iran has compiled with the nuclear provisions,” Rep. Adam Schiff from California told the Forward. “So I think that has dulled some of the nay sayers in terms of the level of antipathy toward the deal.
“I think Secretary Clinton did a good job rebutting that,” Democratic senator Claire McCaskill said in an interview after the debate. “We now know that the Iranian deal has been successful in shutting down the Iranian aspirations of being a nuclear power and nothing can be more important to Israel than that.”
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.