Hillary Rodham Clinton

Remarks at the Brookings Institution on the Iran Deal - Sep. 9, 2015

Hillary Rodham Clinton
September 09, 2015— Washington, D.C.
Brooking Institution
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Well, let me thank you, Strobe, it's great to be back at Brookings, and there are a lot of long-time friends and colleagues who perch here at Brookings. Obviously including Strobe and Martin who I'll speak to in a minute. Also Bob Einhorn and Tammy Wittes.

This institution has hosted many important conversations over the years, and I appreciate Strobe's reference to the event last night and the continuing dialogue about urgent issues facing our nation and world. That's what brings me here today—back to Brookings—to talk about a question we are all grappling with right now: how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon—and more broadly, how to protect ourselves and our allies from the full range of threats that Iran poses.

The stakes are high, and there are no simple or perfectly satisfying solutions. So these questions—and in particular, the merits of the nuclear deal recently reached with Iran—have divided people of good will and raised hard issues on both sides.

Here's how I see it. Either we move forward on the path of diplomacy and seize this chance to block Iran's path to a nuclear weapon—or, we turn down a more dangerous path leading to a far less certain and riskier future.

That's why I support this deal. I support it as part of a larger strategy toward Iran.

By now, the outcome in Congress is no longer in much doubt. So we've got to start looking ahead to what comes next: enforcing the deal, deterring Iran and its proxies, and strengthening our allies.

These will be my goals as president. And today, I want to talk about how I would achieve them.

Let me start by saying I understand the skepticism so many feel about Iran. I too am deeply concerned about Iranian aggression and the need to confront it. It's a ruthless, brutal regime that has the blood of Americans, many others, including its own people, on its hands. Its political rallies resound with cries of "Death to America." Its leaders talk about wiping Israel off the face of the map, most recently just yesterday, and foment terror against it. There is absolutely no reason to trust Iran.

Now, Vice President Cheney may hope that the American people will simply forget, but the truth is, by the time President Obama took office and I became secretary of state, Iran was racing toward a nuclear capability. They had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle—meaning that they had the material, scientists, and technical know-how to create material for nuclear weapons. They had produced and installed thousands of centrifuges, expanded their secret facilities, established a robust uranium enrichment program, and defied their international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And they hadn't suffered many consequences. I voted for sanctions again and again as a Senator from New York, but they weren't having much effect. Most of the world still did business with Iran. We needed to step up our game.

So President Obama and I pursued a two-pronged strategy: pressure and engagement. We made it clear that the door to diplomacy was open—if Iran answered the concerns of the international community in a serious and credible way.

We simultaneously launched a comprehensive campaign to significantly raise the cost of Iranian defiance.

We systematically increased our military capabilities in the region, deepening our cooperation with partners and sending more firepower—an additional aircraft carrier, battleship, strike aircraft, and the most advanced radar and missile defense systems available.

Meanwhile, I traveled the world—capital by capital, leader by leader—twisting arms to help build the global coalition that produced some of the most effective sanctions in history.

With President Obama's leadership, we worked with Congress and the European Union to cut Iran off from the world's economic and financial system. And one by one, we persuaded energy-hungry consumers of Iranian oil like India and South Korea to cut back. Soon, Iran's tankers sat rusting in port. Its economy was collapsing.

These new measures were effective because we made them global. American sanctions provided the foundation—but Iran didn't really feel the heat until we turned this into an international campaign so biting that Iran had no choice but to negotiate. They could no longer play off one country against another. They had no place to hide.

So, they started looking for a way out. I first visited Oman to speak with the sultan of Oman in January of 2011. Went back later that year. The sultan helped set up a secret backchannel. I sent one of my closest aides as part of a small team to begin talks with the Iranians in secret. Negotiations began in earnest after the Iranian election in 2013—first the bilateral talks led by Deputy Secretary Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan that led to the interim agreement; then the multilateral talks led by Secretary John Kerry, Secretary Ernie Moniz, and Under Secretary Wendy Sherman.

Now there's a comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear program. Is it perfect? Well, of course not. No agreement like this ever is. But is it a strong agreement? Yes it is. And we absolutely should not turn it down.

The merits of the deal have been well argued, so I won't go through them in great detail here. The bottom line is that it accomplishes the major goals we set out to achieve. It blocks every pathway for Iran to get a bomb. And it gives us better tools for verification and inspection, and to compel rigorous compliance.

Without a deal, Iran's breakout time—how long they need to produce enough material for a nuclear weapon—would shrink to a couple of months. With a deal, that breakout time stretches to a year, which means that if Iran cheats, we'll know it and we'll have time to respond decisively.

Without a deal, we would have no credible inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities. With a deal, we'll have unprecedented access. We'll be able to monitor every aspect of their nuclear program.

Now, some have expressed concern that certain nuclear restrictions expire after 15 years, and we need to be vigilant about that, which I'll talk more about in a moment. But other parts are permanent, including Iran's obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and their commitment to enhanced inspections under the additional protocol.

Others have expressed concern that it could take up to 24 days to gain access to some of Iran's facilities when we suspect cheating. I'd be the first to say that this part of the deal is not perfect—although the deal does allow for daily access to enrichment facilities and monitoring of the entire nuclear fuel cycle. It's important to focus on that because being able to monitor the supply chain is critical to what we will find out and how we will be able to respond. But our experts tell us that that even with delayed access to some places, this deal does the job. Microscopic nuclear particles remain for years and years. They are impossible to hide. That's why Secretary Moniz, a nuclear physicist, has confidence in this plan.

And some have suggested that we just go back to the negotiating table and get a better, unspecified deal. I can certainly understand why that may sound appealing. But as someone who started these talks in the first place and built our global coalition piece by piece, I can assure you, it is not realistic. Plus, if we walk away now, our capacity to sustain and enforce sanctions will be severely diminished. We will be blamed, not the Iranians.

So if we were to reject this agreement, Iran would be poised to get nearly everything it wants without giving up a thing. No restrictions on their nuclear program. No real warning if Tehran suddenly rushes toward a bomb. And the international sanctions regime would fall apart—so no more economic consequences for Iran, either.

Those of us who have been out there on the diplomatic front lines know that diplomacy is not the pursuit of perfection—it's the balancing of risk. And on balance, the far riskier course right now would be to walk away.

Great powers can't just junk agreements and expect the rest of the world to go along with us. We need to be reasonable and consistent, and we need to keep our word—especially when we're trying to lead a coalition. That's how we'll make this—and future—deals work.

But it's not enough just to say yes to this deal. Of course it isn't. We have to say, "Yes—and." Yes, and we will enforce it with vigor and vigilance. Yes, and we will embed it in a broader strategy to confront Iran's bad behavior in the region. Yes, and we will begin from day one to set the conditions so Iran knows it will never be able to get a nuclear weapon—not during the term of the agreement, not after, not ever.

We need to be clear and I think we have to make that very clear to Iran about what we expect from them. This is not the start of some larger diplomatic opening. And we shouldn't expect that this deal will lead to broader changes in their behavior. That shouldn't be a promise for proceeding.

Instead, we need to be prepared for three scenarios.

First, Iran tries to cheat—something it's been quite willing to do in the past.

Second, Iran tries to wait us out. Perhaps it waits to move for 15 years, when some but not all restrictions expire.

And third, Iran ramps up its dangerous behavior in the region, including its support for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

I believe that the success of this deal has a lot to do with how the next president grapples with these challenges. So let me tell you what I would do.

My starting point will be one of distrust. You remember President Reagan's line about the Soviets—trust, but verify? My approach will be distrust, and verify. We should anticipate that Iran will test the next president. They'll want to see how far they can bend the rules.

That won't work if I'm in the White House.

I'll hold the line against Iranian non-compliance. That means penalties even for small violations. Keeping our allies on board—but being willing to snap back sanctions into place unilaterally if we have to. Working with Congress to close any gaps in the sanctions. Right now, members of Congress are offering proposals to that effect, and I think the current administration should work with them to see whether there are additional steps that could be taken. Finally, it means ensuring that the IAEA has the resources it needs—from finances to personnel to equipment—to hold Iran's feet to the fire.

But the most important thing we can do to keep Iran from cheating or trying to wait us out is to shape Iranian expectations right from the start. The Iranians and the world need to understand that we will act decisively if we need to.

So here's my message to Iran's leaders: The United States will never allow you to acquire a nuclear weapon.

As president, I will take whatever actions are necessary to protect the United States and our allies. I will not hesitate to take military action if Iran attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon. And I will set up my successor to be able to credibly make the same pledge. We will make clear to Iran that our national commitment to prevention will not waver depending on who's in office. It's permanent.

And should it become necessary in the future, having exhausted peaceful alternatives, to turn to military force, we will have preserved—and in some cases enhanced—our capacity to act. And because we've proven our commitment to diplomacy first, the world will more likely join us.

Then there's the broader issue of countering Iran's bad behavior across the region. Taking nuclear weapons out of the equation is crucial, because an Iran with nuclear weapons is so much more dangerous than an Iran without them. But even without nuclear weapons, we still see Iran's fingerprints on nearly every conflict across the Middle East. They support bad actors from Syria to Lebanon to Yemen.

They vow to destroy Israel. And that's worth saying again—they vow to destroy Israel. We cannot ever take that lightly, particularly when Iran ships advanced missiles to Hezbollah and the Ayatollah outlines an actual strategy for eliminating Israel—or talks about how Israel won't exist in 25 years, just like he did today.

And in addition to all the malicious activity they already underwrite, we've got to anticipate that Iran could use some of the economic relief they get from this deal to pay for even more. So as president, I will raise the costs for their actions, and confront them across the board. My strategy will be based on five strong pillars.

First, I will deepen America's unshakeable commitment to Israel's security, including our long-standing tradition of guaranteeing Israel's Qualitative Military Edge. I'll increase support for Israeli rocket and missile defenses, and for intelligence sharing. I'll sell Israel the most sophisticated fighter aircraft ever developed, the F-35. We'll work together to develop and implement better tunnel detection technology to prevent arms smuggling and kidnapping, as well as the strongest possible missile defense system for northern Israel, which has been subjected to Hezbollah's attacks for years.

Second, I will reaffirm that the Persian Gulf is a region of vital interest to the United States. We don't want any of Iran's neighbors to develop or acquire a nuclear weapons program either—so we want them to feel and be secure. I will sustain a robust military presence in the region, especially our air and naval forces. We'll keep the Strait of Hormuz open. We'll increase security cooperation with our Gulf allies—including intelligence sharing, military support and missile defense—to ensure they can defend against Iranian aggression, even if that takes the form of cyber-attacks or other non-traditional threats. Iran should understand that the United States—and I as president—will not stand by as our Gulf allies and partners are threatened. We will act.

Third, I will build a coalition to counter Iran's proxies, particularly Hezbollah. That means enforcing and strengthening the rules prohibiting the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, looking at new ways to choke off their funding, and pressing our partners to treat Hezbollah as the terrorist organization it is. It's time to eliminate the false distinction that some still make between the supposed political and military wings. If you're part of Hezbollah, you're part of a terrorist organization, plain and simple.

Beyond Hezbollah, I'll crack down on the shipment of weapons to Hamas, and push Turkey and Qatar to end their financial support. I'll press our partners in the region to prevent aircraft and ships owned by companies linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guard from entering their territories, and urge our partners to block Iranian planes from entering their airspace on their way to Yemen and Syria.

Across the board, I will vigorously enforce—and strengthen if necessary—the American sanctions on Iran and its Revolutionary Guard for its sponsorship of terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and other destabilizing activities. I'll enforce—and strengthen if necessary—our restrictions on sending arms to Iran, and from Iran to bad actors like Syria. And I'll impose these sanctions on everyone involved in these activities—whether they're in Iran or overseas. This will be a special imperative as some of the UN sanctions lapse. So the U.S. and our partners have to step up.

Fourth, I'll stand—as I always have—against Iran's abuses at home, from its detention of political prisoners to its crackdown on freedom of expression, including online. Its inhumane policies hold back talented and spirited people. Our quarrel is not and never has been with the Iranian people—they'd have a bright future, a hopeful future, if they weren't held back by their leaders. As I've said before, I think we were too restrained in our support of the protests in June 2009 and in our condemnation of the government crackdown that followed—that won't happen again. We will enforce and—if need be—broaden our human rights sanctions. And I will not rest until every single American detained or missing in Iran is home.

Fifth, just as the nuclear agreement needs to be embedded in a broader Iran policy, our broader Iran policy needs to be embedded in a comprehensive regional strategy that promotes stability and counters extremism.

Iran, like ISIS, benefits from chaos and strife. It exploits other countries' weaknesses. And the best defense against Iran are countries and governments that are strong—that can provide security and economic opportunity to their people and they must have the tools to push back on radicalization and extremism. Helping countries get there will take time and strategic discipline. But it's crucial that the United States leads this effort.

I will push for renewed diplomacy to solve the destructive regional conflicts that Iran fuels. We have to bring sufficient pressure on Assad to force a political solution in Syria, including a meaningful increase in our efforts to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition—something I called for early in the conflict.

And the United States must lead in assisting those who have been uprooted by conflict—especially the millions of Syrian refugees now beseeching the world to help them. As Pope Francis has reminded us, this is an international problem that demands an international response—and United States must help lead that response. That's who we are, and that's what we do.

So our strategy needs to cover all these bases. Iran's nuclear ambitions and its support of terrorism. Its hatred of Israel and its cruelty toward its citizens. Its military resources and its economic strengths and weaknesses. We need to be creative, committed, and vigilant. And on every front, we need to keep working closely with our friends and partners.

On that note, let me just spend a moment speaking about the serious concerns that Israel's leaders have about this deal.

Israel has every reason to be alarmed by a regime that both denies its existence and seeks its destruction. I would not support this agreement for one second if I thought it put Israel in greater danger. I believe in my core that Israel and America must stand side by side. And I will always stand by Israel's right to defend itself as I always have.

I believe this deal, and a joint strategy for enforcing it, makes Israel safer.

I say that with humility. I'm not Israeli. I don't know what it's like to live under constant threat from your neighbors, in a country where the margin for error is so thin. I know that my saying, "This deal makes you safer," won't alleviate the very real fears of the Israeli people.

But I have stood for Israel's security for a very long time. It was one of my bedrock principles as secretary of state. It's why I supported stronger defense systems, like the Iron Dome anti-rocket defense system, which proved so effective in protecting Israeli lives during the conflicts of 2012 and last summer. It's why I've worked closely with Israel to advance the two-state vision of a Jewish and democratic Israel with secure and recognized borders. And it's why I believe we should expedite negotiations of a long-term military assistance agreement with Israel. Let's not wait until 2017, when the current deal expires—let's get it done this year.

I would invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House during my first month in office, to talk about all of these issues—and to set us on a course of close, frequent consultation, right from the start. Because we both rely on each other for support, as partners, allies and friends.

This isn't just about policy for me. It is personal. As president, I'm committed to shoring up and strengthening the relationship between our countries. We have had honest disagreements about this deal. Now is the time to come together. Now is the time to remember what unites us, and build upon it. And so, I know well that the same forces that threaten Israel, threaten the United States. And to the people of Israel, let me say—you'll never have to question whether we're with you. The United States will always be with you.

There have also been honest disagreements about the nuclear deal here at home. Smart, serious people can see issues like these differently. Like my friend, Chuck Schumer, who's going to be an excellent leader in the Senate—I respect the skepticism that he and others feel. And I respect differences of opinion, and people who advocate vigorously for their beliefs.

But I have a harder time respecting those who approach an issue as serious as this with unserious talk—especially anyone running to be president of the United States.

Several Republican candidates boast they'll tear up this agreement in 2017, more than a year after it's been implemented. That's not leadership—that's recklessness. It would set us right down the very dangerous path we've worked so hard to avoid.

I'm looking forward to a robust debate about foreign policy in this campaign. Where we have disagreements, we should lay them out—like if American ground forces in Iraq should engage in direct combat, as Scott Walker wants; or if we should keep Cuba closed, as Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush want. Let's debate these issues.

But let's debate them on the basis of facts, not fear. Let's resist denigrating the patriotism or loyalty of those who disagree with us. And let's avoid at all costs undermining America's credibility abroad. That only makes us weaker, and I'm going to call it out whenever I see it.

I spent four years representing America abroad as America's secretary of state. It was one of the greatest privileges of my life. And knowing that my fellow Americans were counting on me, and rooting for me—not as democrats, not as republicans, but as Americans—meant a great deal.

We are all one team—the American team. And that doesn't change, no matter how much we might disagree.

And I can tell you from personal experience—we are stronger overseas when we are united at home. So we simply have to find a way to work together better than we have been doing. There's a lot that Democrats and Republicans can and should agree on. The United States should lead in the Middle East—we can agree on that. We should stand by our friends against Iranian aggression—we can agree on that, too. I believe that the plan I've laid out today is one that all Americans could endorse, and I hope they will.

The next president will face threats from many quarters—from those we see today, like terrorism from ISIS, aggressiveness from Putin, pandemics like Ebola, to all those we can't predict yet. We need a leader who has a strong vision for the future, and the skill and determination to get us there.

We can't stop the world from changing. But we can help to shape those changes. And we do that by leading—with strength, smarts, and an unyielding commitment to our values.

You know I saw that when I was first lady, senator and secretary of state, that when America leads with principle and purpose, other people and governments are eager to join us. No country comes close to matching our advantages—the strength of our economy, the skill of our workforce, our tradition of innovation, our unmatched network of alliances and partnerships. So we are poised to remain the world's most admired and powerful nation for a long time—if we make the smart choices, and practice smart leadership.

That's what I will try to do as your president. And I believe as strongly as ever that our best days are ahead of us—and that America's greatest contributions to the world are yet to come.

Thank you very much.