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The framework announced on Thursday that could limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program was the culmination of one of President Barack Obama’s defining ideas, first expressed almost eight years ago and mocked not only by Republicans but also by then-opponent Hillary Clinton.
During his first presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly criticized the Bush administration for not using diplomacy to engage regimes it disliked, as Bush famously dubbed Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" and rarely held direct talks with those countries. But after Obama argued during a 2007 Democratic presidential debate that the U.S. should negotiate directly with nations like Iran, Clinton slammed his view as "irresponsible and frankly naïve."
Now, Obama is reshaping America’s relationships with regimes it used to distrust through direct engagement, just as the president promised eight years ago. He restarted America’s relationship with Cuba in December, reversing 50 years of U.S. policy. And the agreement reached on Thursday between Iran and a bloc of world powers, including the United States, was the result of months of negotiations and the kind of diplomacy the president favors, even as both Democrats and Republicans remain deeply skeptical Iran will live up to promises it made in the agreement.
“Presidents like Nixon and Reagan struck historic arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary -- despite the fact that that adversary not only threatened to destroy our country and our way of life, but had the means to do so,” Obama said Thursday.
"Those agreements were not perfect," he added. "They did not end all threats. But they made our world safer. A good deal with Iran will do the same."
Since announcing the framework, the president finds himself again being cast as naïve by critics.
"This is a complete capitulation by the United States and a sad day for our country and for the hope of world peace," said Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican who has been one of the leading critics of Obama’s foreign policy.
House Speaker John Boehner said, “It would be naïve to suggest the Iranian regime will not continue to use its nuclear program, and any economic relief, to further destabilize the region. "
Clinton, eight years later and now an Obama ally, was more enthusiastic about the agreement.
“I know well that the devil is always in the details in this kind of negotiation. So I strongly support President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s efforts between now and June to reach a final deal that verifiably cuts off all of Iran’s paths to a nuclear weapon, imposes an intrusive inspection program with no sites off limits, extends breakout time, and spells out clear and overwhelming consequences for violations,” Clinton said. “The onus is on Iran and the bar must be set high. It can never be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
She added, “There is much to do and much more to say in the months ahead, but for now diplomacy deserves a chance to succeed.”
Obama meanwhile sounds like a man who has been vindicated.
“Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so. That's not how the world works, and that's not what history shows us,” the president said on Thursday.
Seeming to harken back to 2007, he added, “To the Iranian people, I want to reaffirm what I've said since the beginning of my presidency. We are willing to engage you on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.”