WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidates criticized U.S. President Donald Trump’s Iran policy and withdrawal from the nuclear deal during the first Democratic debate of the 2020 election, which took place on Wednesday.
Iran was the only foreign policy issue to receive major attention during the debate, which was hosted by NBC News. Ten Democratic candidates participated, and 10 more will take part in a separate debate on Thursday evening. About midway through the debate, the moderators asked the 10 candidates if they support reentering the Iran nuclear deal, from which the Trump administration withdrew in May 2018.
All of the candidates were in favor, with the exception of Sen. Cory Booker (New Jersey), who voted for the Iran deal in 2015. Booker explained that it was a mistake for Trump to leave the 2015 deal and criticized the president for drawing the U.S. closer to conflict with Iran. However, he also said he would want to renegotiate an agreement with Iran if he were to become president. "I'm not going to have a primary platform to say, unilaterally, I'm going to rejoin that deal," he said. "If I have an opportunity to leverage a better deal, I'm going to do it."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) called the Iran deal “imperfect, but good for that moment.” She spared no criticism for Trump's handling of the affair, saying that the president is "a tweet away from going to war.” She added that “Trump told us when he got out of the deal that he would get us a better deal. Now we are less safe.” She also accused the president of giving more leverage to Russia and China. She ended her response with one of the evening's more memorable quotes: “I don’t think we should be conducting foreign policy in our bathrobe at 5 in the morning."
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) also said it was possible to negotiate a better deal with Iran, based on the 2015 deal. “We need to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon,” she said. Gabbard drew criticism in 2017 for traveling to Syria and meeting with the country’s leader, Iran-aligned Bashar Assad, who has used chemical weapons and barrel bombs against his own country's civilian population.
Among the other candidates in favor of rejoining the Iran deal was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), who in 2018 strongly condemned Trump's withdrawal, saying that it "breaks our word, hurts our credibility with our allies, empowers Iranian hard-liners and doesn’t make us any safer here at home.” Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke also supported it, having voted in favor of the deal in 2015.
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In April, Haaretz reported that the growing number of Democratic candidates who support reentering the Iran nuclear deal is a point of concern for Israeli officials. The Israeli government strongly opposed the deal when it was signed in 2015, and officials are uneasy about the prospect of Israel becoming too involved in internal American politics during a tense and divisive election campaign.