Hillary Clinton Defends Obama on Iran and his Anti-Israel Policy

[POLITICO] – Hillary Clinton had several opportunities to distance herself from the Obama administration during an appearance Friday before a heavily pro-Israel crowd, but she didn’t take them.

Instead, she defended President Barack Obama’s dealings with the Jewish state at a time of tense U.S.-Israel relations, insisting the White House is committed to Israel’s security and supporting America’s nuclear talks with Iran.

The former secretary of state and likely 2016 Democratic presidential contender was speaking at the Saban Forum, an event hosted by the Brookings Institution and named for billionaire and Democratic mega-donor Haim Saban. She offered her most extensive Israel-related comments since criticizing the president’s foreign policy in a summer interview with The Atlantic that caused a political maelstrom.

Ahead of her remarks, some attendees chattered over cocktails about their disagreements with the White House, especially on its decision to pursue the negotiations with Tehran. But, during a half-hour conversation onstage with Saban, Clinton signaled little daylight with the administration.

“If you look at the close cooperation, and what this administration and the Congress over the last six years has done with respect to Israel’s security, it’s quite extraordinary,” she said, pointing to funding for military equipment and strategic consultations. “Nobody can argue with the commitment of this administration to Israel’s security, and that has to continue, it has to deepen regardless of the political back-and-forth.”

Clinton has yet to say if whether she will launch a second campaign for president — an announcement is expected early next year — but Republicans already have been scrutinizing her tenure at Foggy Bottom during Obama’s first term. Many in the GOP accuse Obama of being insufficiently supportive of Israel, and some have tried to link Clinton to Obama’s foreign policy missteps.

In the interview with The Atlantic, published in August, Clinton questioned the White House’s self-described foreign policy doctrine of “Don’t do stupid sh—,” as well as its approach to the bloodshed in Syria, among other criticisms. Her remarks prompted blowback from people close to the administration. Some were unhappy with the timing of her comments, which came as the president faced a slew of international crises. Clinton eventually called the president to patch things over.

Had she decided Friday to issue more criticisms, she could have risked another flurry of anger, especially amid the White House’s efforts to keep the talks with Iran on track. World powers, including the United States, have extended the negotiations with the Islamic Republic until the summer.

Israel views a nuclear weapon-armed Iran as an existential threat, and it doesn’t believe Iran’s assurances that its nuclear program is peaceful.

As secretary of state, Clinton was deeply involved in laying the groundwork for the negotiations (she credited sanctions as helping bring the Iranians to the table). On Friday, she sought to reassure the crowd that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” and that “all options” must remain “on the table” in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

(Also on POLITICO: A city of ‘broken trust’)

But, in at times hawkish language, she defended the path the White House has taken with Tehran so far, even as she also painted Iran as a deeply destabilizing force in the Middle East. She also indicated support for the extension of talks, saying it’s “very important” to “try to see if we can reach an agreement in line with our requirements.”

“My bottom line is a deal that verifiably closes all of Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons,” she said. “The key there is ‘verifiably’ and ‘all.’”

Clinton was also asked about Benjamin Netanyahu, the conservative prime minister of Israel, with whom Obama has a particularly fraught relationship. In The Atlantic, Clinton offered sympathetic words for Netanyahu, but on Friday, she avoided that, instead downplaying Israel’s disagreements with the administration.

“At times there are going to be differences,” she said. “And I don’t think it’s personal. I think it is a different perspective about, sometimes what we think is best for our friends may not be what our friends think is best for them. When we say that, I don’t believe that’s disrespectful or rupturing the relationship. I think that’s an honest relationship. That’s the kind of friend I want. I want people to say that to me, I want to be able to say that back. I think that’s a broader, more accurate way to look at the relationship right now.”

She also reiterated her support for a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noting that goal was pursued when her husband, Bill Clinton, was president, as well as in the Bush and Obama administrations.

The absence of negotiations “leaves a vacuum that gets filled by…bad actors, threats…[that are] not good for Israel and not good for the Palestinians,” she said. “So I think the efforts undertaken in the last several years, when I was secretary [and under] Secretary [John] Kerry are very much in the interests of Israel and in the interests of the Palestinians.”

Asked about her biggest regrets while at the State Department, Clinton named several, including the administration’s decision not to do more to boost the pro-democracy protests in Iran in 2009, something she discussed in her recent memoir, “Hard Choices.”

The event drew lawmakers and former lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), whose district includes the Clintons’ Chappaqua home; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), along with former Israeli Amb. Michael Oren, among others.

Clinton lingered after the event, hugging Lowey, greeting old colleagues from the State Department, taking pictures with Oren and huddling with Graham.

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