Clinton Cautious in Her Praise of a Nuclear Deal She Helped to Orchestrate
Policy + Politics

Clinton Cautious in Her Praise of a Nuclear Deal She Helped to Orchestrate

Hillary Rodham Clinton was cautious in her praise of the newly unveiled U.S.-Iranian nuclear non-proliferation deal on Tuesday, even though she was an early architect of it as secretary of state during President Obama’s first term.

Between meetings with Democrats on Capitol Hill today to try to drum up more support for her drive for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton said the agreement was an “important step” towards “putting a lid on Iran’s nuclear program” and possibly discouraging them from continued “bad behavior” in fomenting terrorism and anti-U.S. actions in the Middle East

Related: The 8 Most Important Things to Know About the Iran Nuclear Deal 

If Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry were counting on a full-throated endorsement of the controversial plan from the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, they were disappointed. Clinton and Obama differed sharply over Iran during the 2008 presidential campaign, with Obama vowing to meet with Iran’s leaders without preconditions and Clinton dismissing Obama as “reckless and naïve” in the ways of the world.

But as secretary of state between 2009 and 2013, Clinton and her former rival lay the foundation for the agreement finally negotiated by Kerry and allied leaders with Iran. That means she will have little choice but to embrace the agreement on the campaign trail, even as she tries to keep some distance from Obama as she woos Democratic liberals and other critics of the president’s Middle East policies.

Clinton, as you remember, pretty much stiffed Obama in June during the debate over legislation to give Obama fast-track authority to complete negotiations of a major trade deal with Pacific Rim countries that was strongly opposed by unions and liberal Democrats. After weeks of silence on the issue, Clinton finally spoke out, advising Obama to listen to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Democratic rank and file in Congress who wanted the Trans-Pacific Partnership legislation to include more protections for workers.

Related: Voters Want an Iran Nuke Deal--If Congress Approves   

If the president doesn't listen to Pelosi and the Democrats, she said, "There should be no deal."

Obama eventually won approval of the trade legislation, but no thanks to Clinton. In the end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) – two major GOP boosters of the trade deal – came to Obama’s rescue.

Now Clinton seems obliged to move cautiously in her defense of the Iran nuclear deal as she charts her own course on foreign policy.

Her chief Democratic rival for now, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was more fulsome in his praise of the agreement that would force Iran to shelve its nuclear program for at least the coming decade in return for a lifting of economic sanctions against it. “This is a victory for diplomacy over saber-rattling and could keep the United States from being drawn into another never-ending war in the Middle East,” Sanders said in a statement.

Not surprisingly, the Republican presidential candidates condemned the nuclear deal with Iran, with some like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker vowing to repeal the deal on his first day in the White House. Walker, who formally entered the presidential race on Monday with dubious foreign policy expertise, said that the agreement – if ratified by Congress – will “be remembered as one of America’s worst diplomatic failures and would lead to an arms race “in the world’s most dangerous region.”

Related: A Nuclear Deal with Iran? Not So Fast, Warns GOP 

Republicans argue that the deal falls well short of dismantling the Iranian nuclear program, an early goal of Obama’s, and instead would merely postpone the inevitability that Iran would build nuclear weapons and use them against Israel and other U.S. allies in the Middle East.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Sunni rivals of Iran are likely to build their own nuclear weapons if they feel threatened by Iran, “because now they must.”

Donald Trump, the real estate mogul who is surging in the latest GOP polls because of his relentless attacks on illegal immigrants from Mexico, denounced the nuclear deal in part because “You know the Iranians are going to cheat.”

Related: Tom Cotton Sharpens His Knives for Obama’s Iran Deal  

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush deemed the agreement “dangerous, deeply flawed, and short sighted,” according to The Hill. Bush said any deal should have required Iran to “verifiably abandon” their nuclear ambitions entirely. He also warned that lifting  economic sanctions will “breathe new life into Iran's malevolent and corrupt regime, enabling its projection of terror and power as well as its repression of the Iranian people. “

"This isn’t diplomacy — it is appeasement,” Bush said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and long a skeptic of the nuclear negotiations, said the deal “undermines our national security.” He accused Obama of negotiating from “a position of weakness” and said the U.S. gave “concession after concession to a regime that has American blood on its hands.”