Report

Hillary Clinton Says Iran Deal Won’t Change Tehran’s Behavior

The Democrats' presidential front-runner backs nuclear pact, but denounces Iranian and Russian aggression. If elected, she would invite Israeli prime minister to the White House in first month of her presidency.

CEDAR FALLS, IA - MAY 19:  Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Yesterday Clinton hosted an organizing rally with supporters in Mason City.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
CEDAR FALLS, IA - MAY 19: Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosts a small business forum with members of the business and lending communities at Bike Tech bicycle shop on May 19, 2015 in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Yesterday Clinton hosted an organizing rally with supporters in Mason City. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In her most detailed foreign-policy speech so far in her 2016 run for U.S. president, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said she would, if elected, work closely with Congress to consider fashioning a new set of sanctions aimed at deterring Iran’s human rights abuses and its support for terrorism in the Middle East.

In a speech largely dedicated to U.S. policy toward Iran, the Democratic front-runner enthusiastically embraced world powers’ nuclear deal with Tehran and echoed the White House’s claims that the deal offers the best chance to “block Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon” and avoid “a far less certain and riskier future.” And she reiterated that, as president, she would authorize force, if necessary, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

“This is not the start of some larger diplomatic opening, and we shouldn’t accept that this deal will lead to broader changes in their behavior,” Clinton said of the nuclear pact.

Her comments came hours after Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted that Iran has no intention of opening new negotiations with the United States beyond the nuclear deal. And only a few hours later, two Republican presidential contenders — front-runner Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz — were set to host a Capitol Hill rally to whip up continued opposition to the nuclear deal, even though it has enough Democratic support to move forward.

Clinton cautioned critics that those who are optimistic about the prospect of a better deal with the Islamic Republic are kidding themselves. “As someone who started these talks in the first place and built our global coalition piece by piece, I can assure you it is not realistic,” she said.

Speaking at a Brookings Institution event hosted by the State Department’s former Middle East envoy, Martin Indyk, Clinton also criticized America’s ally Saudi Arabia for its support of extremists in the region, pledged to restrict tough talk with Israel to mostly private exchanges, and vowed to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin more forcefully.

In many ways — and perhaps unsurprisingly for a former secretary of state — Clinton’s remarks placed her solidly in the Obama administration’s foreign-policy camp, saying she would seek to maintain an open diplomatic channel with Iran to address a range of issues.

But Clinton appeared eager to smooth over the Obama administration’s rocky relations with Israel’s leadership, vowing that if she is elected president, she will invite the Jewish state’s prime minister to the White House during her first month in office.

Asked whether she would be prepared to deliver “tough love” to prod Israel’s leaders to pursue peace with the Palestinians, Clinton said, “I just don’t think that is the smartest approach.”

“I think there’s a lot of room for tough love, particularly in private and behind, you know, closed doors,” she said. But publicly airing disagreements between the two nations “opens the door to everybody else to delegitimize Israel.”

On relations with Saudi Arabia, Clinton took a pointed jab at one of Washington’s most important Arab allies, saying it would be “foolish not to acknowledge” that the oil-rich kingdom, as well as wealthy Saudi individuals, has fostered much of the world’s extremism.

Clinton said that the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq — as well as the internal threats by extremists to the Saudi royal family’s rule — may provide “more of an opportunity for a candid dialogue than we’ve had in the past” over the need to confront terrorism.

She expressed particular alarm over Putin’s “czar-like behavior” along Russia’s borders as well as recent reports that Russian troops have been deployed in Syria, saying, “It may very well be opening the door to greater Russian involvement.”

Clinton defended her role, when she was Obama’s first secretary of state, in promoting a “reset” in U.S. relations with Russia and said her diplomacy with then-President Dmitry Medvedev led to agreement on an arms control pact, the New START agreement, and Russia’s acquiescence in imposing economic sanctions on Iran.

But she expressed doubt about the prospects for cooperation with Putin’s government. “I think Russia’s objectives are to stymie and to confront and to undermine American power whenever and wherever they can,” she said.

“I remain convinced that we need a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia and in particular on Putin,” she said. “We have to do more to get back talking about how we try to confine, contain, deter Russian aggression in Europe and beyond,” she said.

Despite their differences, Clinton said that she did have something in common with Russia’s leader. “I don’t admire very much about Mr. Putin, but the idea you can stand and say, ‘I will be your next president’ — that does have a certain, you know, attraction,” she said.

Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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