The Democratic presidential nomination debate on Sunday night was remarkable in part for Senator Bernie Sanders’s strong support for normalizing relations with Iran, and Hillary Clinton’s demurral on that same question. It is big news in Israel. The candidates were asked by Andrea Mitchell if it is time to restore diplomatic relations with Iran after 36 years and reopen an embassy in Tehran. You can watch the exchange, at 1:15:15:
“I think what we’ve got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran, understanding that Iran’s behavior in so many ways is something that we disagree with: their support for terrorism, the anti-American rhetoric that we’re hearing from some of their leadership is something that is not acceptable. On the other hand, the fact that we managed to reach an agreement, something that I very strongly supported, that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon — and we did that without going to war– and that I believe we’re seeing a thaw in our relationships with Iran is a very positive step. So if your question is, do I want to see that relationship become more positive in the future? Yes. Can I tell you that we should open an Embassy in Tehran tomorrow. No I don’t think that we should. But I think the goal has got to be, as we have done with Cuba, to move and warm relations with a very powerful and important country in this world.”
“Well, I’m very proud of the Iran nuclear agreement. I was very pleased to be part of what the president put into action when he took office. I was responsible for getting those sanctions imposed, which put the pressure on Iran, that brought them to the negotiating table, which resulted in this agreement. And so they have been, so far, following their requirements under the agreement. But I think we still have to carefully watch them. We’ve had one good day over 36 years, and I think we need more good days before we move more rapidly toward any kind of normalization. And we have to be sure that they are truly going to implement the agreement and then, we have to go after them on a lot of their other bad behavior in the region, which is causing enormous problems in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.”
This difference is likely to play out in the Democratic primary process. Clinton has been snuggling up to the Israel lobby in such statements about Iran as this one she made in the Forward in November:
We must remain committed to preventing Iran from ever acquiring a nuclear weapon, and to vigorously enforcing the new nuclear agreement. I would move to step up our partnership to confront Iran and its proxies across the region
Earlier on Sunday, Sanders told NBC’s Chuck Todd that President Obama was right about talking to Iran, and Hillary Clinton was wrong, when they differed on that issue in the runup to the 2008 presidential primaries. Politifact:
“It’s funny,” Sanders replied. “If you think back to 2007 during the campaign in which Secretary Clinton ran against Barack Obama, she was critical of him. A question was asked to Obama that said, ‘Would you sit down and talk to the Iranians?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I would.” Point being, you talk to your adversaries. You don’t run away from that. Secretary Clinton, I think, called him naive. Turns out that Obama was right.”
Also note that last year Sanders attacked the “neo-cons” for their warlike approach on Iran.