Democratic US vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine shakes hands with Republican US vice presidential nominee Governor Mike Pence (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton has walked a fine line discussing the merits of the Iran nuclear deal ever since the agreement was announced last year.
At every mention of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Democratic presidential nominee has underscored the importance of maintaining vigilance with Tehran and of protecting the state of Israel, its stated enemy. She has been careful not to oversell the agreement, which remains unpopular with the American public, calling it an imperfect and temporary yet peaceful and effective solution to one of the world's most wicked problems.
This was not the approach that Tim Kaine, Democratic senator from Virginia and Clinton's running mate, took on Tuesday night in his sole debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence of Indiana.
The JCPOA not only "put a lid" on Iran's nuclear program– a phrase often used by Clinton, and largely accepted by Israel's security establishment– but "eliminated" its nuclear weapons program and "stopped" its march to the bomb, Kaine asserted on several occasions, without prompting from the moderator. He cited the nuclear deal as an accomplishment in the Obama administration's counterterrorism efforts.
Kaine repeatedly said that Israel's military officials agree that the deal stopped Iran's nuclear progress. Their position is more nuanced than he, or members of the Obama administration, often articulate.
They simply do not believe the deal was entirely lopsided: They recognize that Iran did give limited concessions– partial dismantlement of its uranium enrichment infrastructure for ten years, and the permanent neutering of its plutonium reactor– that offer Israel, the US and other concerned powers a temporary respite. But they believe Iran accepted these concessions because they were able to negotiate the expansion of its nuclear infrastructure to an industrial scale, with international endorsement, in its out years.
This is what Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and others mean when they acknowledge that Iran has stopped installing increasingly advanced centrifuges and stockpiling highly enriched material. They have– for now. But the lid on that progress is lifted slowly, beginning seven and a half years from now, until in fifteen years Iran will be allowed to operate a state-of-the-art program with abandon.
Clinton's talking points are closer to those of Eizenkot and other Israeli military officials, cautiously optimistic the deal has bought time while remaining concerned with its sunset provisions. Her running mate continues to express a decidedly different point of view, offering voters a glimpse of a gap not only between himself and his future boss, but between one Democratic White House and its potential successor.