Hillary Clinton came out in support of a framework deal with Iran negotiated by the Obama administration Thursday, while warning the "devil is always in the details."
“I strongly support President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s efforts between now and June to reach a final deal,” Clinton said in a statement. “There is much to do and much more to say in the months ahead, but for now diplomacy deserves a chance to succeed.” That last comment could be directed at Congress, which has tried to insert itself into negotiations.
The landmark deal with a country that has had no U.S. embassy since revolutionaries held American diplomats hostage more than 30 years ago sets in motion a process by which Iran is to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for a lifting of Western sanctions.
“The understanding that the major world powers have reached with Iran is an important step toward a comprehensive agreement that would prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and strengthen the security of the United States, Israel, and the region,” Clinton continued, praising Obama and her successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, as “persistent and determined."
But Clinton cautioned that the U.S. was hardly out of the woods yet. “Getting the rest of the way to a final deal by June won’t be easy, but it is absolutely crucial. I know well that the devil is always in the details in this kind of negotiation," she said. "The onus is on Iran and the bar must be set high."
Republicans, for their part, were quick to slam the deal Thursday as a giveaway to Iran. "I cannot stand behind such a flawed agreement,” fellow 2016 presidential hopeful Jeb Bush said in a statement released late Thursday. Meanwhile, a Washington Post/ABC News poll released the same day found that most Americans support a deal with Iran, including 68% of Democrats.
As secretary of state, Clinton helped open back channel negotiations with Iran via the sultan of Oman after he helped free an American hiker who was taken into custody in Iran.
In her 2014 memoir “Hard Choices,” Clinton recounts how the sultan proposed the idea of the back-channel talks to Clinton, who then took it to a “wary, but interested” Obama. “For the next several months, we proceeded cautiously. There were real concerns about whom we would be talking to and what their motivations were,” she wrote. “I agreed that if we proceeded, absolute secrecy would be needed.”
Eventually, Clinton dispatched one of her top advisors, Jake Sullivan, for the delicate first meeting with the Iranians. “Jake was not the most experienced diplomat at the State Department I could have chosen, but he was discreet and had my absolute confidence,” she wrote. Sullivan quietly slipped away from an unrelated trip to Paris with the then-secretary of state without even some of their staff knowing knowing he was heading to Oman, where he slept on an embassy couch before that first meeting.
Since stepping down as secretary of state, Clinton has backed her former boss's policy on Iran, while also drawing a hard line with Tehran. "When I left as secretary and passed the baton on to Secretary Kerry, we were positioned to really explore whether we had set the table well enough to see changes that were sufficient to meet our legitimate objections to Iran's behavior and its future plans," Clinton said at a Jewish conference last May.
But, she added, she was "skeptical the Iranians will follow through and deliver,” saying she had “seen many false hopes dashed through the years.”
More recently, Clinton came strongly to Obama's defense when many members of Congress -- including some Democrats -- wanted to ratchet up sanctions on Iran against the president’s wishes. "If we're the reason -- through our Congress -- that in effect gives Iran and others the excuse not to continue the negotiations, that would be, in my view, a very serious strategic error," she said in a January speech.