Hillary Clinton talks tough on Iran at Jewish conference

Likely presidential candidate says ‘no deal is better than a bad deal,’ voices skepticism as to chances for long-term agreement

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton addresses the American Jewish Committee Global Forum on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 (photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)
Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton addresses the American Jewish Committee Global Forum on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 (photo credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and likely Democratic presidential candidate, talked tough on Iran Wednesday morning, declaring that “no deal is better than a bad deal” and voicing skepticism regarding the chances of current negotiations to bear fruit.

Clinton, in a plenary address at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum, took credit for setting up a tough sanctions regime on Tehran and laying the groundwork for the current negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement.

“When I left, we were in a position to really explore if we had set the table well enough,” Clinton said, recounting the work done between 2008 and 2012 in strengthening the sanctions regime, “revitalizing” the partnership with the other P5+1 powers — Russia, China, the UK, France and Germany — and “establishing bilateral connections.”

She offered a bleak assessment of Iran’s recent track record and urged US negotiators to take a firm stance at talks, which have been taking place this week in Geneva.

“We are arriving at a crucial juncture,” Clinton said, adding that “the progress of Iran’s nuclear program may be halted but it is not dismantled and Tehran has not yet lived up to its obligations or the concerns of the international community.”

She emphasized that the US and its allies “have to be tough, clear-eyed and ready to walk away and increase the pressure if need be” and stressed that “no deal is better than a bad deal.”

Clinton said that she was personally “skeptical that the Iranians will follow though and deliver” a satisfactory solution, but said that despite her apprehensions, the current talks are “a promising development, and we need to test it to see what can be achieved.”

Should talks fail, she warned, “the onus is on the Iranians” and “there will be room to restore the crippling sanctions in the future.” But even if a deal will be achieved, she said, “Iran’s support for terrorism and its aggressive behavior in the region remains a threat for ourselves and our allies.”

Clinton also spoke to her previous involvement in Washington’s attempts to broker a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, beginning with the efforts of her husband, president Bill Clinton, which brought about the Oslo Accord and Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan.

A key part of the American role, she said, was “to help leaders carve out the political space to negotiate” and to “make a persuasive case that the status quo is unmaintainable for both sides.” The latter point has been a major source of contention, with Secretary of State John Kerry facing fierce Israeli protests over his warning that in the absence of a two-state solution, Israel would become an apartheid state

Describing the recent Hamas-Fatah reconciliation as “troubling,” Clinton said that the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip “must reject violence, honor previous agreements and accept Israel’s right to exist.”

“If not,” she warned, “they will remain a pariah.”

The reconciliation pact has raised questions in recent weeks in Washington as to whether the United States can continue to provide funding to the Palestinian Authority should it form a national unity government with Hamas, which the Washington considers a terror organization.

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