Clinton backs Obama on Iran sanctions

Hillary Clinton is backing President Obama's diplomacy with Iran in a move that could hurt her with major Jewish donors, as she ponders a 2016 run.

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Clinton has avoided weighing in publicly on the issue, since the Obama administration struck an interim nuclear deal with Iran in November. In a letter to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), however, Clinton weighed in against a bipartisan sanctions push that's stuck in the Senate. [Read the letter below.]

“I share the opinion of you and many of your colleagues that these sanctions and the carefully constructed global consensus behind them are responsible for driving Tehran to the negotiating table,” she wrote to Levin in the Jan. 26 letter.

“Now that serious negotiations are finally under way, we should do everything we can to test whether they can advance a permanent solution. As President Obama said, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed, while keeping all options on the table.”

Levin held up the letter as a “strong signal” that Congress would be wrong to pass sanctions now.

“This is a thoughtful, persuasive argument from an experienced, respected senior official. It makes clear Secretary Clinton's belief that tough sanctions helped bring Iran to the negotiating table, and that Congress and the administration are poised to act if Iran violates its commitments or fails to negotiate in good faith toward a final agreement,” he said in an emailed statement.

“Her letter is another strong signal to Congress that we should not take any legislative action at this time that would damage international unity or play into the hands of hard-liners in Iran who oppose negotiations,” he added.

The White House argues that passing sanctions now would scuttle diplomacy, and Obama vowed to veto such a bill during his State of the Union address on Tuesday. Some 59 senators have signed onto sanctions legislation, but at least four Democratic co-sponsors have said now is not the right time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the bill up for a vote.

Hillary Clinton letter

— This report was updated at 3:07 p.m.