For the United States, the nuclear deal struck with Iran holds both promise and peril. The same can be said for Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Democratic frontrunner in the 2016 presidential race.
Clinton embraced the deal on Tuesday in remarks on Capitol Hill. She had little choice. By her own admission, she was a driver of the talks that resulted in the historic accord, telling reporters she was “part of building the coalition that brought us to this point” while praising the agreement as “an important step that puts the lid on Iran’s nuclear programs.”
At the same time, Clinton emphasized that rigorous policing of the deal, including unfettered access to key Iranian nuclear sites, would be critical to its success. If elected president next year, she would be “absolutely devoted to ensuring that agreement is followed.”
While most of Clinton’s Republican rivals trained their criticism of the deal on President Barack Obama, some took shots at Clinton’s role, a likely line of attack in the weeks to come as the pact is debated in Congress and on the campaign trail.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said Clinton “will have to justify to the American people why she supports allowing a known state sponsor of terrorism to move toward obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
And should that happen, Clinton will likely take some of the blame, critics of the deal said.
“She certainly will own it," said Tzvi Kahn, a senior analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, a conservative think tank. "If the deal unravels, if the deal ultimately enables Iran to get the bomb in the long term, I think she will be perceived as sharing some of the responsibility for it."
How that would translate politically, however, remains unclear. Polls have shown Americans generally to be in favor of a deal, while also expressing deep pessimism that the Iranians can be trusted to go along with it.
The uncertainty surrounding the issue helped explain why Clinton’s remarks on Tuesday were so restrained.
As the former chief diplomat of the Obama administration, she has taken care to avoid diverging from the White House on foreign policy. At the same time, she has long spoken more forcefully than the president about confronting Tehran.
In what might be viewed as an attempt to blunt future attacks from the likes of Perry and other contenders, Clinton made clear that she would hold Iran accountable for state-sponsored terrorism and human-rights abuses. And she said she continues to view Iran as “an existential threat to Israel.”
Clinton cannot risk alienating wealthy Jewish donors, some of whom may worry that the new deal further endangers Israel.
David Golder, a Clinton donor in Chicago, praised her “pragmatic” response.
“I think if you look at engaged members of the Jewish community, they expect a good deal with Iran that doesn’t put the U.S. or Israel at risk and defines for all of us what that means,” he said. “There is a wide range of opinion in the Jewish community on the critical structure of these steps.”
Jack Rosen, a Clinton donor in New York, expressed skepticism about the agreement going forward, but added he believes Clinton shares it.
“The skepticism is there. We’re all skeptical,” Rosen said. “She’s well aware of Iran’s history, and there’s still a very important second step which is to make sure Iran adheres to the deal.
Clinton enjoys some maneuvering room. Despite Republican efforts to vilify Obama’s foreign policy, the president garnered about 70 percent of the Jewish vote in 2012, suggesting that many American Jews are far from being single-issue voters primarily focused on Israel’s security.