WASHINGTON — In a series of paid speeches to Goldman Sachs in 2013, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said the US should “bomb” Iran’s nuclear facilities if the Islamic Republic inched too closely to developing a nuclear weapon, while noting that the Israelis could not “do much damage themselves,” according to transcripts released by WikiLeaks on Saturday.
Clinton told the firm’s CEO Lloyd Bankfein at a South Carolina conference on June 4, 2013, that if Tehran raced toward the bomb, the US must “up the pain,” but without “boots on the ground.” She spoke five months before the interim agreement was reached that set the framework for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
During the forum, Blankfein asked Clinton how to prevent the Iranian regime from becoming a nuclear power without launching an invasion, after expressing incredulity that such an incursion would achieve the desired outcome.
“It’s hard to imagine going into something as open-ended and uncontainable as the occupation of Iran,” he said. “How else can you stop them from doing something they [are] committed to doing?”
To which Clinton responded: “Well, you up the pain that they have to endure by not in any way occupying or invading them but by bombing their facilities. I mean, that is the option. It is not, as we like to say these days, boots on the ground.”
Later, she added: “We have to bomb the facilities. They act as though there would be no consequences either predicted or unpredicted. Of course there would be, and you already are dealing with a regime that is the principal funder and supplier of terrorism in the world today.”
At that same June event, Clinton indicated the Israelis did not have the military capabilities to strike the Iranian nuclear facilities and successfully set back its activities.
“The Israelis, as you know, have looked at this very closely for a number of years. The Israelis’ estimate is even if we set their program back for just a couple of years it’s worth doing and whatever their reaction might be is absorbable,” she told Blackfein. “That has been up until this recent government, the prior government, their position. But they couldn’t do much damage themselves. We now have a weapon that is quite a serious one.”
“It’s a penetrator,” she added. “Because if you can’t get through the hardened covering over these plants into where the centrifuges are you can’t set them back. So you have to be able to drop what is a very large precision-guided weapon.”
The leaked transcripts of Clinton’s speeches at the June event and two others were released Saturday by WikiLeaks as part of a trove of hacked emails from her campaign manager John Podesta’s account.
The release is now the latest bid by the group to inject itself into this year’s presidential campaign.
US officials have said WikiLeaks is working with Russian operatives to undermine Clinton’s candidacy and boost her opponent Donald Trump. So far the group has unveiled 11,000 hacked emails and purports to release 50,000 more before the November 8 election.
The Clinton campaign has neither denied nor confirmed the authenticity of the transcripts of her high-priced Wall Street speeches. They have also not challenged any of the emails that the group has already made public.
In another speech at the Aims Alternative Investments Symposium on October 23, 2013, almost one month before the interim deal was announced, Clinton continued to express support for efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear threat, but also voiced skepticism about the plan. “I think it’s very tough to reach a credible deal with Iran, but I think you have to try,” she said.
She also said that Tehran has no right to enrich uranium. “The Iranians’ position for as long as I’ve been closely following it and involved in it is ‘we have a right to enrich.’ Now, technically they don’t. They’re signatory to the nonproliferation, they do not have a right to enrich, but that is their bottom line demand, and that’s what they’re trying to obtain international recognition for,” Clinton said.
Clinton has made similar statements in past interviews before, but she supported allowing for some enrichment as secretary of state. During a March 2011 testimony in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, she endorsed letting Iran enrich “under very strict conditions.”
Three years later, she told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that she’s “always been in the camp that held that they did not have a right to enrichment. Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right.”
“I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran,” she added, before specifying the “preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.”
Since the JCPOA was signed in July 2015, Clinton has supported the deal but has suggested she would enforce it forcefully as president and combat the regime’s nefarious exploits in the region.
Under the contours of the deal, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It can retain roughly 5,000 centrifuges and preserve no more than 3.7 percent enrichment for the next 15 years.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has verified that Iran eliminated its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which, if maintained, could be purified to weapons-grade in short order.
The presidential hopeful provided a robust defense of the accord at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference, including its reduction of Iran’s enriched uranium, while also raising concerns about weaknesses in the deal and Iranian behavior.
“Today, Iran’s enriched uranium is all but gone, thousands of centrifuges have stopped spinning, Iran’s potential breakout time has increased and new verification measures are in place to help us deter and detect any cheating,” she said in March, before going on to say the deal “must come with vigorous enforcement.”
According to Politico, the Clinton campaign plans to respond to the WikiLeaks releases by drawing a comparison to the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of former US president Richard Nixon.
“We’re witnessing another effort to steal private campaign documents in order to influence an election,” Clinton campaign spokesperson Glen Caplin wrote in an early version of the post soon to go on Medium’s website.