Iran Talks Likely to Figure in Any Hillary Clinton 2016 Bid

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Former Diplomat Remains Tied to Administration Efforts to Seal Nuclear Deal; GOP Says Tehran Uses the Talks as Cover

Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from the Obama administration’s increasingly unpopular handling of international issues, including Syria and Russia.

The former secretary of state is much more closely tied to current U.S. diplomatic efforts toward Iran aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program. Mrs. Clinton has taken credit for initiating secret talks with Iran in 2012 that formed the foundation for negotiations that were recently extended another seven months. In addition, one of her closest foreign-policy advisers at the State Department, Jake Sullivan, remains one of the Obama administration’s top negotiators with the Iranian diplomats.

Republicans are already citing Iran as a likely top foreign-policy issue in the 2016 campaign, when Mrs. Clinton is expected to be the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination. They say the White House is allowing Tehran to use the talks as a cover to weaken Western sanctions and to advance its nuclear program. The White House has said its diplomacy, and an interim agreement reached last year, have capped key parts of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled it back in some areas.

In a July CNN interview, Mrs. Clinton pushed for a U.S. negotiating line that would allow Iran to maintain little to no ability to produce nuclear fuel in the near term. But U.S. diplomats have already conceded in talks that Tehran would maintain thousands of centrifuges used to enrich uranium as part of any final deal.

She spoke about the Iran nuclear talks at an event Friday night hosted by the Brookings Institution think tank, saying she supported the extension of nuclear negotiations with Iran. But she displayed distance from the White House’s policies on Iran. She said she wished the Obama administration “had spoken out more” to support a pro-democracy movement that broke out in Iran in 2009. “You never know…what you may say that gives heart to people.”

Interviewed at the event by a political supporter, Haim Saban, Mrs. Clinton said the U.S. mustn’t be overly willing to reach a deal with Iran. “I remain strongly of the view that no deal is better than a bad deal,” she said.

Still, she said the negotiations are an important step. “I think it is a very important effort to continue to pursue, and to try to see if we can reach an agreement that is in line with our requirements.”

Despite her apparent differences with the negotiators, Republicans say she is locked into the Obama administration’s policy because of her role in shaping it. Rep. Steve Chabot (R., Ohio), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she was the “chief architect” of the Obama foreign policy for four years and will have to answer for any failings when it comes to Iran. “For the most part, the current secretary of state has carried on the policies that she started,” he said. “There hasn’t been a tremendous difference between the two relative to Iran.”

During her 2008 presidential bid, Mrs. Clinton occasionally roiled the Democratic contest with hawkish statements about Iran, at one point slamming then-Sen. Barack Obama’s call for direct talks as “naive.”

On joining Mr. Obama’s administration, she expressed greater skepticism than did Mr. Obama toward engaging Iran. Weeks after moving to the State Department, she told the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates she was “doubtful” Tehran would respond to U.S. offers to hold talks over its nuclear program, according to senior U.S. officials, a comment seen as a slap at the White House.

Still, Mrs. Clinton moved aggressively to implement Mr. Obama’s strategy, offering the prospect of talks while boosting economic pressure on Tehran.

Her supporters and some foreign-policy experts say she will be able to argue that her efforts to impose sanctions were the primary reason Tehran agreed to hold direct, high-level talks.

“She was one of the foremost Iran skeptics, and by taking a tough line…she also teed up the kind of leverage that might lead to an agreement, should there be one,” said the author David Rothkopf, who recently published a book on the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

At the same time, Mrs. Clinton was intimately involved in establishing the diplomatic channel that laid the groundwork for today’s nuclear negotiations, said current and former U.S. officials.

People close to Mrs. Clinton say she will likely approach Iran from two perspectives during a campaign. If there is a deal, she can point to her role and that of Mr. Sullivan in establishing the diplomatic channel to Tehran. If it fails, she will argue she was always skeptical about the chances of success.

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