Obama and Clinton were never the Bobbsey twins when it came to Iran. Clinton has pressed for tough sanctions since she was a senator from New York. During the presidential debates, she jumped on candidate Obama’s idea to engage with the Iranians without preconditions. She says in her memoir “Hard Choices” that she regretted the president’s refusal to take a harder line with the mullahs in response to their crackdown on the Green Revolution in 2009. And in the Atlantic interview, she was adamantly against the idea that Iran has a right to enrich uranium: “The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.” The U.S. team currently negotiating with Tehran has conceded some enrichment as a practical matter, with limits to be negotiated.
But if Clinton had been president, she probably would have struck the same deal and followed a similar approach, first seeking an interim accord and then testing the possibilities through another year of negotiations before getting to a final agreement. After all, it was she who set the current talks in motion. She and Obama had agreed on a dual-track strategy of pressure and engagement. That meant sustained and tougher sanctions, with the door left open for diplomacy. After the sultan of Oman offered Clinton a back channel for secret bilateral diplomacy, it was her State Department, specifically Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan, that staffed it on the U.S. side.
A President Clinton, understanding that the alternative to a deal might be war — either an Israeli military strike or even a U.S. one — would probably have gone to great lengths to make sure that every possibility had been explored before resorting to force. Negotiators get attached to their negotiations and don’t want to fail. And so Clinton would have probably authorized the same concessions to Iran as the current negotiating team has.