Hillary Clinton backs Obama on Iran sanctions
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made clear she supports President Barack Obama’s call to allow the current negotiations over ending Iran’s nuclear development and that new sanctions being debated by Congress should be shelved while those talks take place, according to a late-January letter she wrote obtained by POLITICO.
Clinton made her views clear in a Jan. 26 missive sent to her former Senate colleague, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan. It’s the first time that Clinton’s perspective on the current discussions have been laid out in detail.
Levin wrote to Clinton 10 days earlier, asking for her guidance as former Secretary of State on what effect new sanctions would have on the efforts to reach a comprehensive deal with Tehran.
“I share the opinion of you and many of your colleagues that these sanctions and the carefully-constructed global consensus behind them are repospinsible for driving Tehran to the negotiating table. It was because sactions worked that we are starting implementation of the Joint Plan of Action, an important step – though still only a first step – toward a comphrensive solution,” Clinton wrote in the letter.
“Now that serious negotiations are finally under way, we should do everything we can to test whether they can advance a permanent solution. As President Obama said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table,” she wrote. “The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that imposing new unilateral sanctions now ‘would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.’ I share that view. It could rob us of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course.”
Clinton continued, “If the world judges – rightly or wrongly – that negotiations have collapsed because of actions in the United States Congress, even some of our closest partners abroad – to say nothing of countries like Russia and China – may well falter in their commitment.
“Like President Obama, I have no illusions about the ease or likelihood of turning the Joint Plan of Action into a permanent solution.”
She outlined other lingering concerns about Iranian officials’ behavior toward their own citizens, as well as to other nations.
“So long as Iran remains a sponsor of terrorism and a threat to global security, we will have to remain vigilant in defense of our allies and partners, including Israel,” she wrote. “Yet I have no doubt that this is the time to give our diplomacy the space to work. If it does not, there will be time to put in place additional sanctions in the future, with greater international support necessary to ensure enforcement, and to explore every other option on the table.”
Aides to Levin and Clinton did not respond to emails for comment.
Obama made clear in his State of the Union address last week – delivered after the Clinton’s letter was sent – that he will veto any legislation calling for fresh sanctions against Iran if such a bill is passed by Congress. In the past, his aides have described such a move as an effort toward war-footing by some elected officials, at a time when his administration and current Secretary of State John Kerry are hoping that negotiations with Iran’s new regime will produce something substantial. Levin noted his own opposition to fresh sanctions in his letter to Clinton.
“I come to the current debate as a long-time advocate for crippling sanctions against Iran,” Clinton wrote to Levin, noting her own historic hawkishness on the topic. “In my eight years in the Senate, I supported every Iran sanctions bill that came up for a vote and I spoke out frequently about the need to confront the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism, and its hostility toward Israel. As Secretary of State, I spent four years sharpening a choice for Iran’s leaders: address the international community’s legitimate concerns about their nuclear program or face ever-escalating pressure and isolation. With support from Congress and our allies, our diplomacy yielded the toughest international sanctions ever imposed.”
Clinton expressed similar views on the current debate, which saw a breakthrough late last year, at a speech that was closed to the media at the Saban Forum last December.
“We can always put on sanctions,” she said, according to a transcript. “I mean that is no heavy lift for the United States Congress, believe me. So why do it now before we can really test? … And then we’re isolated again, and we’re back to where we basically were in 2008, without an international coalition and consensus that has, I believe, brought Iran at least to the point of our being able to explore whether there is a decent deal there.”
Clinton’s former State Department adviser Jake Sullivan, currently working for Vice President Joe Biden, was quietly dispatched while he was still working for the Secretary to Oman in 2011 for early talks toward a nuclear agreement.