Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, on Dec. 3, 2014.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty

Clinton backs Obama on Israel and Iran

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed up President Obama’s handling of Israel at every turn during an appearance at a pro-Israel event in Washington, D.C., on Friday evening, despite criticism of the president from many of the the country’s American supporters.

During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republicans accused the president of abandoning the U.S. ally, a charge even some pro-Israel Democrats have repeated on occasion.

But while appearing at the Saban Forum, a project of the Brookings Institution, Clinton put little distance between herself and the White House.

“Nobody can argue with the commitment of this administration to Israel’s security.”
Hillary Clinton
“Forget about the press coverage and the back and forth,” she said. “Nobody can argue with the commitment of this administration to Israel’s security. And that has to continue, and that has to deepen, regardless of the political back and forth.”

Citing the administration’s funding of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and other programs, she called Obama’s support for the country’s security “quite extraordinary.”

The former secretary of state and likely 2016 presidential candidate’s interlocutor was Haim Saban, the Israeli-American entertainment mogul who funds the forum. The billionaire is also a major Democratic donor and has pledged to contribute “as much as needed” to put Clinton in the White House, should she decide to run for president a second time.

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Clinton also defended the administration’s negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program, a key issue for Israel. Critics say Obama has not been tough enough on Iran, and criticized his decision to extend talks with Tehran until July, but Clinton said sanctions against the country have succeeded in their objectives.

“The extension of the agreement until July will most likely be a period in which the sanctions will hold,” she said. “My assessment is that the international sanctions have been effective.”

Still, she said that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” and insisted that “all options” must be left on the table, including, presumably, military strikes.

She also declined to criticize the administration’s handling of the terrorist militia known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), saying “we’re in for a long struggle” against the group.

While it’s not surprising for a former administration official to defend her former boss, Clinton has broken with Obama on foreign policy in the past and will likely to do so again if she decides to run to replace him. Clinton is seen as more hawkish than Obama, and their differing views on foreign policy were at the center of the 2008 Democratic primary they fought against each other.

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Israel and Iran dominated Clinton’s conversation with Saban. She said a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians remains “essential” and “relevant,” despite a lack of progress on the issue.

The former senator also said that tensions between Obama and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu, who is speaking at the Saban forum this weekend, are actually the mark of a “mature” friendship.

“Sometimes what we think is best for our friends may not be what our friends think is best for them. When we say that, I don’t believe that’s disrespectful or rupturing the relationship. I think that’s an honest relationship,” she said. “That’s the kind of friend I want. I want people to say that to me, I want to be able to say that back.”

“Sometimes what we think is best for our friends may not be what our friends think is best for them.”
Hillary Clinton
On Iran, she added that one of her biggest regrets as secretary of state is not speaking out more strongly in favor of protests that erupted after the contested 2009 presidential election there. “We tried to do what we could beneath the radar screen to help the demonstrators,” she said, mentioning “covert” actions, but said she wished she had been more public.

Saban asked Clinton what she would do on her first day as president, but she dodged, answering only what she thought any president should do. “There’s not going to be one thing,” she said, citing the complexity of the world.

She also called Friday’s job report, which showed more than 300,000 new jobs created in November, “very good news.” She said she expects the good economic news to continue and that ”there is wind beneath our wings” now on the economy.

But she warns those gains are not being equally distributed. “We continue to make economic progress, but now we have to work on the challenge on inclusive growth and broadly shared prosperity,” she said.

At the end of their conversation, Saban asked Clinton to play a word association game, where she would say the first word that popped into her head after he offered her one. On Bill Clinton, the former first lady said, “Fabulous.” Women’s rights: “Essential.” Writing books: “Hard.” Deserts: “Trouble.” And love: “Inescapable.”