Treating the Iran nuclear deal as a fait accompli, Hillary Clinton on Wednesday provided the most detailed account yet of the foreign policy goals she would pursue if elected president, one that offered little expectation of warmer relations with Iran.
She threatened to reinstate sanctions unilaterally should Iran pursue a nuclear weapon and to use military force if necessary.
Clinton also made it clear that she foresees little change from U.S. involvement in the Middle East. On Israel, she stressed several times in her remarks that, if elected president, she would deepen “America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security” by increasing intelligence sharing and boosting support for missile defense systems and other military equipment.
She acknowledged the tensions coursing through U.S.-Israeli relations – including her own “very vigorous” conversations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – but she said she didn’t favor a “tough love” approach to addressing problematic Israeli policies because that could lead to regional foes seizing on the tactic to “pile on” and “de-legitimize” Israel.
We will begin from day one to set the conditions so Iran knows it will never be able to get a nuclear weapon.
Clinton’s remarks came before an audience of foreign policy experts at the Brookings Institution research center in Washington. Despite her harsh tone and skepticism of Iranian intentions, she said the nuclear deal “gets the job done” and is less risky than proceeding without the portal it offers into Tehran’s nuclear program.
Because “there is absolutely no reason to trust Iran,” Clinton said, she would follow up by addressing Israeli and Persian Gulf states’ fears over the deal with better defense systems, building a coalition to fight Iranian proxies throughout the region, getting louder in calling for domestic reforms in Iran, and embedding Iran in a broader strategy for stabilizing the Middle East.
The nuclear agreement, negotiated over the summer by Iran, the United States and other world powers, offers sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for measures intended to hobble its ability to produce a nuclear weapon.
“We will begin from day one to set the conditions so Iran knows it will never be able to get a nuclear weapon,” Clinton said. “Not during the term of the agreement, not after, not ever.”
Clinton tied the nuclear issue to other urgent U.S. interests. She displayed an easy familiarity with the problems to be inherited by the next president – the Syrian conflict, the global refugee crisis, an expansionist Russia, the strain with Israel, diplomacy with Asia and so on – and spoke forcefully about the arm-twisting she’s ready to do to make progress.
Despite her harsh tone and skepticism of Iranian intentions, Clinton said the nuclear deal “gets the job done.”
In a media call following the speech, longtime Clinton aide Jake Sullivan summed up her approach as “classic Hillary Clinton: diplomacy, backed by pressure.”
In Iran’s case, Clinton said, the pressure will not only come from the inspections and other methods of enforcing the agreement, but by shoring up the neighbors’ defenses. She made it clear that despite strains with Israel and Gulf powers such as Saudi Arabia, this was the time to close ranks rather than to move farther away from traditional regional allies.
Clinton dismissed the idea that the Iran deal could usher in a larger diplomatic opening, saying that the regime hasn’t changed enough for it to be a reliable partner, though she said she’d support limited engagement on regional issues such as the conflict in Syria.
Clinton said “distrust and verify” would be her mantra for dealing with Iran, and she said the United States should be prepared for three scenarios: Iran cheats as it has in the past, Iran “tries to wait us out” by shelving nuclear weapon plans until the expiration of some restrictions in 15 years, or Iran ramps up its “dangerous behavior” in the region by supporting militants from Hamas and Hezbollah.
“We should anticipate that Iran will test the next president,” Clinton said. “They’ll want to see how far they can bend the rules.”
“That won’t work if I’m in the White House,” she added. “I’ll hold the line against Iranian noncompliance.”
In a brief question-and-answer session after her Iran remarks, Clinton outlined her plans on other thorny foreign policy issues:
– On the current European refugee crisis, Clinton called for an emergency global meeting “where the U.N. literally tries to get commitments” from nations. She likened it to a donor conference and said the same tactic had worked after the earthquake in Haiti. She called it a global responsibility and said nations were obliged either to take in refugees or to contribute to supporting overwhelmed host countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
– On Russia, she said that President Vladimir Putin had chosen not to “modernize” his country and move closer toward the West, instead pursuing a “tsar-like” agenda, including the annexation of Crimea, destabilizing Ukraine and beefing up its military involvement in Syria. She said it was time for U.S. officials to regroup quickly to address a Russia whose objectives are “to stymie and to confront and to undermine American power.”