High po­lit­i­cal stakes for Hil­lary Clin­ton based on Iran nu­clear deal suc­cess

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY KEN THOMAS AND JULIE PACE

Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton can claim a piece of the victory if the U.S. and other world pow­ers ul­ti­mately com­plete a fi­nal nu­clear deal with Iran.

She will own a piece of the fail­ure if the ne­go­ti­a­tions col­lapse or pro­duce a weak deal.

Her state­ment af­ter Thurs­day’s ten­ta­tive agree­ment sug­gests the soon-to-be U.S. Demo­cratic Party can­di­date for pres­i­dent knows those are her stakes.

She called the frame­work “an im­por­tant step,” while cau­tion­ing that “the devil is al­ways in the de­tails.”

The is­sue will fig­ure promi­nently in the for­eign pol­icy de­bate of the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Nearly all the ex­pected Repub­li­can Party can­di­dates said the out­line agree­ment was danger­ous to U.S. in­ter­ests.

‘A unique space’

But Clin­ton oc­cu­pies a unique space on the nu­clear is­sue be­cause of her role in Obama’s Cabi­net. She sent a close ad­viser, Jake Sul­li­van, to par­tic­i­pate in the se­cret talks with Iran that led to the start of the in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tions over the coun­try’s nu­clear am­bi­tions.

Clin­ton is also nav­i­gat­ing del­i­cate ties with Is­rael and the Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity, an in­flu­en­tial group of vot­ers and donors. Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Benjamin Ne­tanyahu, a fierce critic of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s out­reach to Iran, de­scribed the frame­work deal as a threat to “the very sur­vival” of his na­tion.

The ten­ta­tive agree­ment an­nounced Thurs­day by the U.S. and its ne­go­ti­at­ing part­ners — the United King­dom, France, Ger­many, China and Rus­sia — is aimed at keep­ing Iran from de­vel­op­ing a nu­clear weapon. Ne­go­tia­tors have un­til June 30 to set­tle the tech­ni­cal de­tails. The deal would re­move eco­nomic penal­ties against Iran once the U.N. nu­clear agency ver­i­fies Tehran’s com­pli­ance.

At times, Clin­ton has tried to play up her con­nec­tion to the his­toric diplo­macy. The U.S. and Iran sev­ered diplo­matic re­la­tions in 1979 af­ter the Is­lamic revo­lu­tion and the storm­ing of the U.S. Em­bassy in Tehran, where 52 Amer­i­cans were held hostage for more than a year.

Clin­ton wrote in her mem­oir of how she set the ne­go­ti­a­tions in mo­tion by fa­cil­i­tat­ing back-chan­nel dis­cus­sions with Iran through the sul­tan of Oman, who sug­gested the talks af­ter he helped free an Amer­i­can hiker held by Iran. Clin­ton tapped Sul­li­van to es­tab­lish con­tact with the Ira­ni­ans in 2012, an im­por­tant step in the path to Thurs­day’s pre­lim­i­nary agree­ment.

Sul­li­van has closely con­sulted with Clin­ton on pol­icy as she pre­pares to an­nounce her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign this month.

Yet Clin­ton also ex­pressed doubt as the talks dragged on and she neared a re­turn to pol­i­tics.

Last year, Clin­ton told an Amer­i­can Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tion that while Obama had given 50-50 odds of an agree­ment, she was “skep­ti­cal the Ira­ni­ans will fol­low through and de­liver.” She said she had “seen many false hopes dashed through the years.”

Brian Kat­ulis, a se­nior fel­low at the left-lean­ing Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress who fo­cuses on na­tional se­cu­rity pol­icy in the Mid­dle East and South Asia, said if a full deal is reached by the sum­mer, Clin­ton would be “part of some­thing his­toric” be­cause of her ini­tial role.

If it failed, he pre­dicted she still would be “in a strong po­si­tion at the cen­ter of the de­bate, be­cause Iran would be widely viewed as the spoiler.”

With public polling show­ing a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans fa­vor a diplo­matic res­o­lu­tion to Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions, Kat­ulis said, “any ef­fort by Repub­li­cans to crit­i­cize Clin­ton’s sup­port for diplo­macy might ul­ti­mately push them to the mar­gins of to­day’s na­tional se­cu­rity de­bate and away from the cen­ter.”

Clin­ton ap­pears set to go on of­fense against the U.S. Repub­li­can Party over Iran. Af­ter dozens of Repub­li­can sen­a­tors sent a let­ter to Iran’s lead­ers warn­ing that the U.S. Congress could up­end a deal, Clin­ton said the law­mak­ers were “out of step with the best tra­di­tions of Amer­i­can lead­er­ship.”

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