WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton is backing President Obama's opposition to new economic sanctions against Iran.
Obama announced in his State of the Union address last week that he would veto any legislation that called for such sanctions, as negotiations to extend an interim nuclear weapons agreement proceed. Some prominent Republicans support new sanctions.
Clinton, the former secretary of State and presumed early frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, detailed her position in a Jan. 26 letter to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan.
Clinton, who wrote to Levin at his invitation, said that the negotiations should be given a chance to succeed.
"Now that serious negotiations are finally underway, we should do everything we can to test whether they can advance a permanent solution," Clinton wrote two days before Obama's speech.
She added that new sanctions "could rob us of the diplomatic high ground we worked so hard to reach, break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken the pressure on Iran by opening the door for other countries to chart a different course."
A copy of Clinton's letter was released by Levin on Sunday after Politico wrote about it.
On Nov. 24, a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Clinton's successor, joined by Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany, reached the interim agreement with Iran. In exchange for relaxed economic sanctions — worth approximately $7 billion per year — Iran agreed to freeze and partially roll back aspects of its nuclear program, which it has said would be for civilian, not military, purposes.
On Dec. 10, an assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies provided to the administration and Congress said that "new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran," according to a subsequent letter to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from 10 Democratic colleagues.
The Obama administration's stance toward Iran became a focal point of congressional debate, with implications for the 2014 midterm elections and, perhaps, presidential politics.
As of early January, 59 U.S. senators had signed on as co-sponsors of legislation that would impose economic sanctions against Iran regardless of what happens in the multi-country negotiations. More recently, four Democrats who had signed on have backed away, saying they do not want to undermine the negotiations.
Among the 59 original co-sponsors are Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas); both are considered potential contenders for the GOP presidential nomination.
As for Clinton, a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Thursday showed that, among voters identifying themselves as leaning Democratic, 73% preferred her over other potential candidates.
One congressional aide familiar with Clinton's roles in both the Senate and as secretary of State said Sunday that while her letter opposing new sanctions could not be separated from presidential politics, she speaks with relevant first-hand experience about the fraught U.S.-Iran relationship.
"She knows, as much as anybody, what we've gone through with Iran," said the aide, who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to comment.
[For the record, 6:21 p.m. Feb. 2: An earlier version of this post omitted two words from Hillary Rodham Clinton's letter, saying new sanctions could "break the international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken pressure on Iran." In fact, her letter said new sanctions could "break the united international front we constructed, and in the long run, weaken the pressure on Iran."]