Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks about Iran at the Brookings Institute September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—2015 Getty Images
By Sam Frizell
September 9, 2015

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mounted a vigorous defense of the proposed Iran nuclear deal Wednesday, breaking with the Obama Administration’s framing for the agreement and offering instead a more hawkish tone.

The Democratic presidential frontrunner argued that Iran could not be trusted and that the deal should be part of a more aggressive stance in containing the country and its proxies in the Middle East.

“I am deeply concerned about Iranian aggression and the need to confront it,” Clinton said. “It’s a ruthless, brutal regime that has the blood of Americans and many others, including its own people, on its hands.”

Clinton’s speech offered a noticeably different way of presenting the deal than the Obama Administration has put forward. While President Obama has also emphasized remaining vigilant about the Iranian regime’s potential to reboot its nuclear weapons program, he has appealed directly to Iranian people in a video message and on social media.

Clinton, meantime, maintained that the deal was not part of a broader opening to Iran.

“We need to be clear-eyed about what we can expect from Iran,” Clinton said. “This isn’t the start of some broader diplomatic opening and we shouldn’t expect that this deal will lead to broader changes in their behavior.”

Clinton called on Wednesday for the United States to expand its military presence in the Middle East and ensure the hotly contended Strait of Hormuz remains open, and said she would increase defense support for allies in the Gulf. She said that if she were president, the United States should sell Israel the F-35, a sophisticated new fighter jet being built for the U.S. military.

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She also said she would take a hard line against Iran’s allies, working to restrict shipments of weapons to Hamas in the Gaza Strip and crack down on military support for Hezbollah. Clinton expressed support for expanding sanctions against Iran that are outside the purview of the deal, including human rights sanctions.

Clinton’s mantra, she said during the speech, is “distrust and verify,” a twist on President Reagan’s message to “trust but verify” during negotiations over nuclear weapons reductions with the Soviet Union.

She also warned that Iran would face military action if it cheats and peaceful options have been exhausted. Iran should know, Clinton said, that even after many of the terms in the deal have expired in 15 years, it will not attain obtain a nuclear weapons. “Here’s my message to Iran’s leaders,” Clinton said. “The United States will never allow you to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

Republicans, who overwhelmingly oppose the deal but do not have the votes in Congress to block it, have argued that the restrictions in it are not sufficient.

“The Clinton-Obama Iran deal not only falls short of the Administration’s own goals, it empowers the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism while never ultimately blocking Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in a statement after Clinton’s speech.

Clinton has long been known for taking a more hawkish stance than many of her fellow Democrats. She voted in favor of the Iraq War, a vote she has since called a mistake, and she has sounded a more suspicious note in her approach to Iran.

She also has called for arming moderate Syrian rebels fighting Assad, an argument she made again on Wednesday, and she’s said the United States should have acted more decisively to defend Ukraine from Russian aggression.

Obama, on the other hand, has taken a conciliatory tone. In a video in March as the deal was coming together, he addressed the Iranian people directly.

“For decades, our nations have been separated by mistrust and fear. Now it is early spring,” Obama said to Iranians. “We have a chance to make progress that will benefit our countries, and the world, for many years to come. Now it is up to all of us, Iranians and Americans, to seize this moment and the possibilities that can bloom in this new season.”

Obama also recently commented on a Facebook post from an American photographer traveling in Iran, saying that a story about a 10-year-old boy in the town of Tabriz “really resonated with me.”

Clinton has expressed support for the deal since it was announced, but Wednesday’s speech marked her first detailed pronouncement on how she would uphold and defend the deal as president. Her speech on Wednesday showed how far she is willing to go to restrict Iran’s influence in the Middle East.

“We have to say, ‘yes, and we will enforce [the deal] with vigor and vigilance. Yes, and we will embed it in a broader strategy to confront Iran’s bad behavior in the region,'” Clinton said.

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