Hillary bucks the Iran hawks: Former secretary of state says diplomacy must work its course

Likely Democratic presidential contender comes out against sanctions push

Published January 21, 2015 8:52PM (EST)

 Hillary Clinton (AP/Cliff Owen)
Hillary Clinton (AP/Cliff Owen)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday urged Congress not to vote on new sanctions against Iran ahead of the June 30 deadline for diplomats to reach an agreement over Tehran's nuclear program, warning that such a vote could sink the negotiations.

Even as negotiators continue their effort to forge an accord, Sens. Bob Mendendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are drafting legislation that would impose crippling new sanctions on the Iranian economy should the talks fail or if Iran later reneges on any agreement that diplomats reach. Although the sanctions would not kick in until after the June 30 deadline, U.S. and international officials warn that a sanctions vote prior to the deadline would signal to the Iranians that the U.S. is not negotiating in good faith and could therefore torpedo diplomatic efforts. In a joint press conference with President Obama last week, Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron said that a sanctions vote "could actually fracture" the multilateral coalition taking part in the negotiations.

Speaking at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's Global Perspectives event on Wednesday, Clinton sounded a similar note. Asked whether she would support the sanctions legislation, which Obama has vowed to veto should it reach his desk, Clinton said, "No. I take the position the president articulated last night" in his State of the Union address.

"Why do we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations?" Clinton asked.

While Clinton, who left the administration in early 2013, has previously voiced support for the White House's diplomatic efforts, her firm opposition to a sanctions vote is notable given her reputation as a more hawkish Democrat. Clinton made waves last summer after she criticized the administration for not intervening in Syria's civil war, asserting that the "failure" to do so led to the rise of the Islamic State militant group.

The Democrats' likely 2016 presidential nominee also voted as a U.S. senator to authorize the Iraq War, a vote which sparked fierce progressive criticism and helped then-Sen. Barack Obama overtake her in the race for the party's 2008 nomination. Although Clinton had become an Iraq War critic by that year, she also staked out a belligerent position toward Iran during her campaign, warning that the U.S. would "totally obliterate" the country if it launched a strike on Israel.

But with her opposition to an early sanctions vote, Clinton may now provide cover to Democratic senators who are undecided on the Menendez-Kirk sanctions legislation. The two senators have garnered bipartisan support for their sanctions push, but it remains unclear whether they will secure enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Meanwhile, in what experts are calling an "unprecedented" slap at an American president, House Speaker John Boehner today announced that he had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a vehement critic of the Iran negotiations, to speak before Congress on the issue.

By Luke Brinker

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