Democratic candidates debate Middle East policy, disagree on ties with Iran

Democratic primary nominees, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley debated their policies on Sunday in the NBC/YouTube Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C. Credit: YouTube screenshot.

( Democratic primary nominees Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley outlined their policies on Sunday in the NBC/YouTube Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C. The two frontrunners, Clinton and Sanders, discussed their views on American foreign policy in the Middle East and struck divergent notes on emerging relations with Iran.

“What the nightmare is, which many of my Republican colleagues appear to want is to not have learned the lesson of Iraq. To get American young men and women involved in perpetual warfare in the quagmire of Syria and the Middle East would be an unmitigated disaster that as president, I will do everything in my power to avoid,” Sanders said.

“I think what we've got to do is move as aggressively as we can to normalize relations with Iran,” said Sanders. The first wave of international sanctions on Iran was removed over the weekend as part of the nuclear deal with the P5+1 nations.

“The fact that we've managed to reach an agreement, something that I've very strongly supported that prevents Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and we did that without going to war. And that I believe we're seeing a fall in our relationships with Iran is a very positive step. So if your question is, do I want to see that relationship become more positive in the future? Yes,” he said.

Clinton said she is “very proud of the Iran nuclear agreement,” but took a more cautious approach to relations with Iran.

“I was very pleased to be part of what the president put into action when he took office. I was responsible for getting those sanctions imposed which put the pressure on Iran. It brought them to the negotiating table which resulted in this agreement. And so, they have been so far, following their requirements under the agreement. But I think we still have to carefully watch them,” she added.

Sanders said that “in terms of our priorities in the region, our first priority must be the destruction of ISIS. Our second priority must be getting rid of [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, through some political settlement, working with Iran, working with Russia. But the immediate task is to bring all interests together who want to destroy ISIS, including Russia, including Iran, including our Muslim allies to make that the major priority.”

“We've got to be more united in preventing [Russian President Vladimir] Putin from taking a more aggressive stance in Europe and the Middle East,” Clinton said, though she added, “We got Russia to sign on to our sanctions against Iran and other very important diplomacy, you are always trying to see how you can figure out the interest of the other to see if there isn't some way you can advance your security and your values.”

“[President Barack Obama's] decision to go after the chemical weapons [in Syria] once there was a potential opportunity to build on when the Russians opened that door resulted in a very positive outcome. We were able to get the chemical weapons could very well have affected the surrounding states, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey,” Clinton said.

Posted on January 18, 2016 .