Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a not-so-subtle swing Sunday at former Vice President Dick Cheney’s claim that Iran developed nuclear capabilities after President Barack Obama took office.
"Iran was on a pretty fast track toward a nuclear weapon when Barack Obama became president," Clinton said at a backyard house party in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Clinton backs the deal the administration has negotiated to lift sanctions on Iran in return for that country allowing inspections of its nuclear facilities, and plans to make a major speech about it Wednesday in Washington.
On the same day, Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz plan to appear with conservative talk show host Glenn Beck at a Capitol Hill rally against the deal.
Clinton's comments were a taste of the kind of tough talk that she said will be necessary to defeat the Republicans working against her. "It’s going to be a fight. Make no mistake about it. It’s going to be a hard election. The other side has said they will spend, do and say anything to win back the White House," she said. "I am absolutely confident that whatever they throw at me, I can throw it right back."
On Fox News Sunday, Cheney asserted that it was the Obama administration that had allowed Tehran to develop nuclear centrifuges. Clinton who served as Obama's first secretary of state, said Iran's major progress toward becoming a nuclear power actually happened when Cheney was serving in President George W. Bush's administration.
"Iranians mastered the nuclear fuel cycle before he became president, they built covert facilities and stocked them with centrifuges before he became president," she said. "And we – I was in the Senate – we had done everything we could by passing sanctions through our Congress. But it took the world to actually get their attention. We had to get everybody on board."
In his Fox appearance, the former vice president said that the Bush administration's aggressive Middle East strategy "did a lot to limit nuclear proliferation in the region." Interviewer Chris Wallace noted that the number of centrifuges in Iran went from zero to 5,000 by 2009, the year when Obama was sworn in. "But," Cheney said, "that happened on Obama’s watch, not on our watch." Corrected by Wallace on the timing, Cheney pushed on, insisting that Obama "always dealt from a position of weakness,"
Clinton begged to differ on Sunday, saying that she and others in the Obama administration pushed to get the world on board with sanctions, which ultimately got Iran to the negotiating table and led to the deal on which Congress is preparing to vote.
"I support the president’s agreement with Iran," said Clinton, adding that "it’s the best alternative we have to put a lid" on Iran’s nuclear program.
A supporter greeting Clinton after her talk congratulated her on last week's MSNBC interview, saying that they thought she effectively parried criticisms about her use of private e-mail while she was secretary of state. "I loved the gefilte fish story," added Julie Thomas, in a reference to an email exchange about Clinton's efforts to resolve a tariff issue that was preventing shipments of the Passover delicacy from Illinois to Israel. Thomas, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002, told Clinton she should highlight the episode as an example of her "problem solving."
"That's so funny," said Clinton. "That's a good suggestion."
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