Former Secretary of State (and 2016 Democratic frontrunner) Hillary Clinton is backing President Barack Obama on Iran, calling on Congress to not pass new sanctions while negotiations take their course.
Clinton's comments came in a three-page response to a request from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, for her thoughts on the issue. They represent somewhat of a shift from a rather hawkish past on Iran during her time as a U.S. senator and as Secretary of State.
"Now that serious negotiations are finally under way, we should do everything we can to test whether they can advance a permanent solution," Clinton wrote in the letter to Levin, which was first obtained by Politico.
"As President Obama said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table. The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that imposing new unilateral sanctions now 'would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.' I share that view. It could rob us of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course."
Her comments come at a time when many Democratic senators are pushing for a new round of sanctions — including a strong push from her former Senate colleague in New York, Sen. Chuck Schumer. And on the campaign trail in 2008, Clinton was against the idea of negotiating with Iran.
Obama made clear in his State of the Union speech last week that he would veto any new sanctions legislation that reaches his desk while negotiations with Iran are ongoing.
Clinton wrote in the letter that she has "no illusions" about Iran, taking a similar tone to Obama's recent comments. He has said that he thinks the chances of reaching an agreeable, permanent deal on Iran's nuclear program are about 50-50.
In the letter, Clinton noted her own history as an Iran hawk.
"I come to the current debate as a longtime advocate for crippling sanctions against Iran," Clinton wrote.
"In my eight years in the Senate, I supported every Iran sanctions bill that came up for a vote and I spoke out frequently about the need to confront the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its support for terrorism, and its hostility toward Israel. As Secretary of State, I spent four years sharpening a choice for Iran’s leaders: address the international community’s legitimate concerns about their nuclear program or face ever-escalating pressure and isolation."
As of January, 59 senators had signed on to co-sponsor legislation that would impose sanctions in the event that Iran breaches the terms of the interim agreement reached last month in Geneva — or if world powers fail to come to a comprehensive agreement regarding Iran's nuclear energy program.
In a statement, Levin said that Clinton's letter served as " another strong signal to Congress that we should not take any legislative action at this time that would damage international unity or play into the hands of hard-liners in Iran who oppose negotiations."
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