May 2, 2016

Clinton and Sanders Campaigns Debate the Issues at NIAC, UMD Debate


Washington, DC – As part of its “Beshkan” campaign urging Iranian Americans to register to vote, NIAC, in cooperation with the University of Maryland’s Center for International & Security Studies (CISSM), organized a Democratic surrogate debate focusing solely on foreign policy issues. Former Under Secretary of State Lawrence Korb represented the Sanders campaign and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet represented the Clinton campaign, while award-winning journalist Indira Lakshmanan moderated.  Although a variety of issues on foreign policy were discussed, some interesting  points were made about U.S.-Iran foreign policy and the Visa Waiver issue.

Both Korb and Chollet reiterated their respective candidates’ support for the Iran nuclear deal and intent to ensure it is implemented. However, when asked if the nuclear deal should lead to rapprochement with Iran, they had different views.

Chollet argued that the nuclear deal was only about the nuclear issue and there are a lot of issues between the two countries that impede a rapprochement “I don’t see [rapprochement] that in the cards either from Tehran or from the United States”. That said, Chollet indicated that Clinton would continue the Obama administration’s pursuit of multilateral engagement on issues where the U.S. and Iran have overlapping interests, such as ending the conflict in Syria. He also added that “to the extent that they comply with the deal they should get what is agreed to in the deal” responding to a question about whether the United States should enable dollar transactions to facilitate trade with Iran.

On the other hand, Korb stated that the deal is a step toward normalization and stressed that “you got to be able to bring nations in and deal with them” and that normalization with states “should be our goal”. Korb recognized that there will be disagreements between the two states but, similar to U.S. cooperation with competitors like Russia, they must seek areas of common ground.

On the Saudi – Iran dispute, both debaters said they would hope the parties could try resolve challenges through diplomatic means. They stressed that this is critical for the stability of the region, but also for minimizing the increasing rift between Sunni and Shia Muslims. However when considering the U.S. cooperation with Saudi Arabia their opinions differed.

“In terms of countries we ally with, I don’t know if I would prefer to live in Iran compared to some of our allies…who President Obama is meeting with this week,” said Korb, highlighting the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia. Korb stressed that it is important to get rid of the biased relationship with Saudi Arabia because it hurts U.S. credibility in issues such as human rights and particular woman rights. He also claimed that U.S. should have conditions for the weapons sales and that the 9/11 Commission should release the report on Saudi’s role or not. “I think we got to tell them – look guys you got to shape up if you want to be with us.”

Meanwhile Chollet said that Clinton believes in a strong U.S – Saudi relationship, but points to her experience as being key in dealing constructively with the leadership in Riyadh. He emphasized that Clinton would regularly focus on human rights and women’s rights when engaging with the Riyadh leadership, but values the issue as secondary to more pragmatic diplomatic interests.. “Do we hold our entire relationship to Saudi Arabia hostage over that issue? Clearly there are many things at stake here.”

The campaigns also discussed recent restrictions under the Visa Waiver Program that target Iranian dual nationals. Korb stated clearly that Senator Sanders opposes the Visa Waiver legislation discriminating dual-nationals. “Would he oppose it? Yeah!” Chollet similarly argued that restrictions against dual nationals “doesn’t make sense”, but maintained that Clinton would approach the legislation similar to the Obama Administration and provide “certain waivers” to travelers.

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