Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton tempered her support for President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran by pledging Wednesday that, if elected, she would back it up with the threat of military action, subtly breaking with the war-averse president she served as secretary of state.
Not at all subtle were the Republican presidential hopefuls who blasted the agreement at a stop-the-deal rally outside the Capitol.
“I’ve never seen something so incompetently negotiated — and I mean never,” Donald Trump, the front-runner for the GOP nomination, told the crowd of thousands. “We are led by very, very stupid people.”
The strong stances on both sides signaled that Mr. Obama’s Iran deal will remain a campaign issue long after it likely prevails in a vote in Congress later this month.
While voicing support for the deal as the best option available, Mrs. Clinton gently distanced herself from Mr. Obama by promising to bring a firmer hand to American foreign policy.
“I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon,” Mrs. Clinton said in a speech at the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington.
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The threat of war was part of an aggressive five-point plan in which Mrs. Clinton proposed a combination of U.S. military power and diplomacy to keep Iran in check. It included:
⦁ More U.S. military support for Israel;
⦁ Increased U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf and increased security cooperation with Middle East allies;
⦁ Building an international coalition to crack down on arms shipments and other support to Iran’s proxies in the region;
⦁ Enforce and possibly broaden human rights sanctions to discourage Iran’s mistreatment of its citizens and press for release of Americans detained in Iran;
⦁ And redouble diplomatic efforts to stabilize war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Mr. Obama has said he only would keep the military option open as a last resort.
Mrs. Clinton clashed with Mr. Obama over Iran when the two faced off for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. She also took a more hawkish stance toward Iran in 2008, saying that Mr. Obama’s promise to unconditionally meet with Iran’s leaders was “irresponsible” and “naive.”
This time Mrs. Clinton warned that the next president should be prepared to be tested by Iran, either by it breaking the nuclear agreement or its violent meddling in the region.
“The Iranians and the world need to know that we will act decisively if we need to. So here is my message to Iran’s leaders: The United States will never allow you to acquire a nuclear weapon,” she said.
Mrs. Clinton’s speech received a lukewarm reception from the party’s left wing.
“The activists fighting to avoid another debacle like the Iraq War welcome Secretary Clinton’s forceful advocacy in favor of the Iran deal. We’ll be reviewing her other foreign policy ideas in greater detail in the months to come,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Mrs. Clinton owned the “Clinton-Obama deal,” and voters would hold her responsible for it.
“It empowers the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism while never ultimately blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. Hillary Clinton’s central role in crafting this dangerous agreement is one of the many examples of her failed record as secretary of state,” he said.
The deal would lift economic sanctions on Iran, which critics argue will release $150 billion in frozen assets to the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism, and require the Islamic regime to dismantle most of its nuclear program for at least a decade, with compliance monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Opponents argue that the delays do not prevent Iran from eventually developing a nuclear weapon and that Iran gets too much control over the inspections, including a 24-day waiting period before inspectors can enter some sites.
At the rally outside the Capitol, Mr. Trump and other conservative leaders railed against the deal for failing to secure the release of four Americans held captive in Iran and not doing enough to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons.
Mr. Trump questioned how anyone could support the deal when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday that Israel would not exist in 25 years.
“So they rip us off, they take our money, they make us look like fools, and now they’re back to being who they really are,” he said. “They don’t want Israel to survive. They will not let Israel survive. With incompetent leadership like we have right now, Israel will not survive.”
Mr. Trump and GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas headlined the rally, which was organized by Tea Party Patriots.
Other speakers included former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, conservative talk radio host Mark Levin and former Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
Speaker after speaker tried to ramp up pressure on lawmakers to oppose the deal, saying Iran cannot be trusted and the deal will make the Middle East and the world less safe.
Mr. Cruz said there is no greater threat to the security of the United States and Israel than a nuclear-armed Iran. He called on Democrats to rethink supporting the agreement.
“Let me be clear: If you vote to send billions of dollars to jihadists who have pledged to murder Americans, then you bear direct responsibilities for the murders carried out with the dollars you have given,” the freshman lawmaker said. “You cannot wash your hands of that blood.”
Mr. Cruz, who is polling in the middle of the crowded GOP field, invited Mr. Trump to the rally. Their camaraderie has fueled speculation that Mr. Cruz is eyeing Mr. Trump’s supporters in the event the New York billionaire’s campaign flames out.
People in the crowd waved American flags and signs that called for the impeachment of Mr. Obama or proclaimed: “The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
Venting their frustration with Washington, they complained that politicians from both parties refuse to listen to the American public.
“We are sick of being stabbed in the back by Congress. Sick of it,” said Tracey Anderson, a Trump supporter who traveled form Indianapolis for the rally.
Mr. Trump promised that securing the release of American hostages and taking a firm stand against Iran will be part of an agenda that will put the nation back onto a path of victory.
“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning. Believe me,” he said, sparking laughter and applause from the crowd.
“You’ll never get bored with winning,” quipped Mr. Trump. “We are going to turn this country around. We are going to start winning bigly.”