Hillary Clinton may have helmed American diplomacy as Secretary of State, but that doesn’t mean she is in any hurry to bless the deal her successor just hammered out with Iranian negotiators about that nation’s nuclear program.
The frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, who was on Capitol Hill today to meet with Democratic lawmakers about her economic plan, gave no clear answers on the Iran deal announced early Tuesday morning. Instead, she chose to take the cagey position of applauding the “effort” but not the substance of the agreement.
Following a closed-door meeting with House Democrats, Clinton, flanked by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, addressed a scrum of reporters for a few moments and talked a bit about the deal.
“Iran did obviously come up,” she said. “This is a very important moment.”
She said Obama called her late last night to tell her negotiators had made a deal.
“I applaud him and both Secretary Kerry and Secretary Moniz for their extraordinary efforts in bringing about this conclusion,” she continued. “Based on what I know now, and I will be being briefed as soon as I finish addressing you, this is an important step in putting the lid on Iran’s nuclear program.”
But, she said, a number of issues still needed addressing, including enforcement of the deal—“this agreement will have to be enforced vigorously, relentlessly.”
She noted that Iran is still “the largest state sponsor of terrorism,” that it undermines other regional governments, unfairly incarcerates Americans, and “poses an existential threat to Israel.”
“Having been part of building the coalition that brought us to the point of this agreement, I think we will have to immediately upon completion of this agreement and its rigorous enforcement look to see how we build a coalition to try to prevent and undermine Iran’s bad behaviors in other arenas,” she said.
“I think this is an important step that puts a lid on Iran’s nuclear programs,” she concluded, “and it will enable us to turn our attention, as it must, to doing what we can with other partners in the region and beyond to try to prevent and contain Iran’s other bad actions.”
“I believed, based on what I know now, this is an important step,” she said, before exiting the stage, leaving the horde of question-shouting reporters in her wake.
“Do you support the deal?” cried one reporter. “Does it embolden Iran?”
No word on that front.
So does Clinton actually support the Iran deal?
I approached Huma Abedin—one of the candidate’s top advisors—and asked her that question.
“We’re not totally clear if Secretary Clinton supports the Iran deal as it’s written,” I said. “Is it right that she supports the deal, or enforcement of the deal?”
“I think you should talk to Nick Merrill, our press secretary,” Abedin replied. “Let me find—yes, he’s here,” she said, telling me to wait while she found Merrill.
I waited there for a few minutes, but he didn’t materialize.
After Clinton disappeared for more meetings with Democratic lawmakers, senior spokesman Jesse Ferguson chatted with a few reporters about her comments.
I asked if Clinton was somewhere on a spectrum between support and opposition of the deal.
“It’s right to say that of pretty much everybody, I would hope, right?” he said. “Like everybody lives somewhere between support and opposition.”
“It’s right to say exactly what she said,” Ferguson continued. “She thinks it’s a really good first step, she thinks it has the potential to put a lid on nuclear proliferation, it does a lot of good things. But, you know, at the same time, she also is going to read it.”
Never mind that Clinton’s longtime foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan secretly helped laid the groundwork in 2012 to kick off the talks. So, knowing that, she presumably will back the deal while being respectful of Netanyahu’s opposition. Right?
If that’s the case, Sullivan wasn’t saying so at a breakfast with reporters across town.
“There goes the laser focus on the middle-class economy,” he quipped during the breakfast, which was sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Sullivan stressed that he only spoke for himself when making favorable comments about the deal.
So aside from saying he thinks it’s the best and most effective way to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, Sullivan sidestepped the Iran questions, saying Clinton would speak for herself.
And around we go again.
Eleanor Clift contributed reporting to this article