Washington, DC – According to Philip Gordon, former senior advisor to President Obama and current advisor to the Clinton campaign, Iran remains a major challenge to the United States, yet there are opportunities for more constructive relations following the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Gordon spoke at NIAC’s 2016 Leadership Conference in his personal capacity but sought to outline what he believes would be a Hillary Clinton administration’s approach to Iran and the Middle East.
With regard to the JCPOA, Gordon conveyed that Clinton strongly supported the deal and, responding to a question, affirmed that Clinton would veto new sanctions from Congress that would undermine the deal. He did suggest that non-nuclear activities would be “subject to sanctions as appropriate, such as support for terrorism, violations of human rights,” but only within the context of upholding U.S. obligations. “What we won’t do is reimpose nuclear sanctions while pretending they’re for some other purpose,” Gordon said. He contrasted her position with Republican nominee Donald Trump’s, arguing that Trump’s desire to renegotiate the JCPOA was “absurd” and would undo the significant progress made under the deal.
Gordon said that Iran remains a destabilizing actor in the region, and that improved relations would be contingent on the government changing its behavior. When pressed, he acknowledged that Iran was not alone in this regard, noting Saudi Arabia’s connections to extremist organizations and highlighting that Secretary Clinton has “drawn attention” to Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of extremist Wahhabist schools around the world would seek to reduce such activities as President. Gordon did, however, note that Saudi Arabia is a U.S. partner and indicated that, while the potential for collaboration with Iran on issues of mutual interest has improved dramatically since the JCPOA, the U.S. should not be blindly optimistic about improved relations with Iran. At the same time, he argued that critics who expected the JCPOA to change Iran overnight were “missing the point” and expecting too much from an agreement that focused solely on Iran’s nuclear program.
Gordon praised NIAC’s work to enhance civic engagement in the Iranian-American community and to condemn the Iranian government’s human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of Iranian Americans. He expressed some optimism that Iran could become a more constructive actor in the future and outlined several reasons why. First, he said, Iranians have consistently preferred candidates and policies that advocate “more freedoms at home, and more integration into the world” when given the chance during elections. Second, Gordon argued that the opening of Iran’s economy post-nuclear deal could contribute to democratization as it did in South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile during and after the Cold War. Finally, Gordon suggested that the nuclear accord should help to diminish the insecurity felt by the Iranian government and public by reducing tensions with the outside world. “We don’t know what Iran’s going to look like in 2030,” Gordon said, but he emphasized that “a new generation of Iranians, perhaps less marked by the conflicts of the past, will be in charge.”Back to top