NEW YORK – Hillary Clinton, former US secretary of state, senator and possible Democratic presidential nominee for 2016, vowed to the American Jewish Congress that the US would impose new sanctions on Iran if diplomatic negotiations break down.
Clinton spoke to AJC on Wednesday evening in New York where she accepted the 65th annual Stephen S. Wise Lifetime Achievement Award.
“We need to give space for diplomacy to work, and there needs to be a timetable set and enforced,” Clinton said. “If it does not succeed, we can and we will put on more sanctions.
We will explore every other option. Let’s be clear: Every other option does remain on the table.”
In her speech to the 96-year-old organization, Clinton talked about the “unshakable bond” between America and Israel. “I have been very grateful to do my part over a number of years to help keep our relationship solid,” she said.
“Ambassador [Ron] Dermer and I were just reminiscing about our efforts during the attacks of 2012,” Clinton said, referring to Operation Pillar of Defense, in which Clinton flew from Cambodia to Jerusalem to negotiate a cease-fire between Gaza and Israel. “America will always have Israel’s back. That’s what we do. That’s who we are.
“As we walk [the] road ahead, there will be many concerns, but one thing that will not be a concern and will not be doubted, or part of any discussion, is the friendship between America and Israel,” Clinton said. “America’s commitment to Israel’s security will not waiver.”
Clinton spent the bulk of her speech looking back on her and US President Barack Obama’s efforts to impose sanctions on Iran during Obama’s first term.
“We have a saying in our family: Get caught trying,” she said. “I want to do everything I can, to keep testing, to keep pushing."
“Now is a crucial time for diplomacy with Iran,” she continued. “The status quo is unsustainable. Iran is facing a very hard choice, and the clock is ticking on difficult negotiations to reach a comprehensive, verifiable agreement that ends Iran’s march toward nuclear weapons and protects Israel, the region, specifically the Gulf, and the world.”
Clinton reflected on 2008 when Obama was first elected and “Iran was on the rise,” saying “I was under no illusions that Iran was going to change its behavior simply because there was a US administration willing to talk.”
She described the strategy of the US extending every possible hand in diplomacy that they had to extend, thereby ensuring that if Iran rejected the offers, they would look like “the intransigent ones.”
“It was only because the entire world recognized that the US was willing to have a two-track policy of engagement and pressure that we were able to rally all of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council [to impose sanctions] and convince major consumers to seek other suppliers,” Clinton said, adding that the US hadn’t really been a customer of Iranian oil in decades.
“At the time of revolution in 1979, Iran’s economy was twice as large as Turkey’s,” Clinton said.
“Today it is half the size. The country’s nuclear program is not an answer to the aspirations, to that energy, to that intellectual creativity that could be let loose. Would Iranians rather end up like North Korea or South Korea? Only they can answer questions like that.”
While no overt references were made to Clinton’s heavily rumored, but not yet definite, presidential run in 2016, all of the night’s speakers, including AJCongress president Jack Rosen and The Good Wife actress Julianne Margulies, who introduced Clinton, made sly references about Clinton’s future plans. “Although this is an award for lifetime achievement, we all know there’s a lot more to come!” Margulies said.
Other high profile attendees at the dinner included Consul-General in New York Ido Aharoni, former head of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Ami Ayalon, Ambassador to the US Dermer, former Mexican president Vincente Fox, US journalist Barbara Walters, New York Attorney-General Eric Schneidermann, who also spoke briefly, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Congressman Charlie Rangel, as well as other local elected officials from New York and New Jersey. Ambassadors from Canada, China, Denmark, Sri Lanka, Uganda and Ukraine were also present.
The evening’s program included a performance from Israeli singer Liel Kolet and her band.