Obama calls for ‘turning up the pressure’ on Iran
U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday that "all evidence indicates" Iran is pursuing the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, but he expressed confidence that the United States could muster broad international support for a new round of U.N. sanctions designed to curtail Tehran’s atomic ambitions. The remarks follow an hour-long phone discussion Obama held late ...
U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday that "all evidence indicates" Iran is pursuing the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, but he expressed confidence that the United States could muster broad international support for a new round of U.N. sanctions designed to curtail Tehran's atomic ambitions.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday that "all evidence indicates" Iran is pursuing the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, but he expressed confidence that the United States could muster broad international support for a new round of U.N. sanctions designed to curtail Tehran’s atomic ambitions.
The remarks follow an hour-long phone discussion Obama held late Thursday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who will travel to Washington to participate in a nuclear security summit from April 12 to 13. "President Obama underscored the importance of working together to ensure that Iran lives up to its international obligations," according to a White House readout of the meeting.
China, which has resisted American calls for U.N. sanctions for several months, agreed this week for the first time to begin discussions at the United Nations on possible Iran sanctions resolutions, according to U.S. and Europeans diplomats. But U.N. diplomats in New York cautioned that they expect protracted negotiations with China over the substance of the sanctions resolution.
"I think the idea here is to keep on turning up the pressure. The regime has become more isolated since I came into office," Obama said in an interview Friday with CBS’s Early Show. "We’re going to continue to ratchet up the pressure and examine how they respond. But we’re going to do so with a unified international community that puts us in a much stronger position."
Obama said the emergence of Iran as a nuclear weapons power would create "huge destabilizing effects in the region and will trigger an arms race in the Middle East that is bad for U.S. national security but is also bad for the entire world." He said it would also harm Iran’s political standing in the world.
"Part of the reason that we reached out to them was to say, ‘You’ve got a path. You can take a path that allows you to rejoin the international community, or you can take a path of developing nuclear-weapons capacity that further isolates you.’ And now we’re seeing them further isolated. Over time, that is going to have an effect on their economy."
China, which has deepened its commercial ties with Iran, has opposed efforts for months to apply economic pressure on Tehran. Its pledge to discuss sanctions this week underscored the importance Beijing places in maintaining good ties with the United States.
It also signaled Beijing’s willingness to move beyond an acrimonious dispute with Washington over a range of issues, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, and differences over currency rates. "China has agreed to sit down and begin serious negotiations here in New York" with other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, Rice told CNN Thursday. "We’re gratified that … now we’re going to get down to the nuts and bolts of negotiations."
The United States, Britain, France. and Germany have been pressing China and Russia to begin formal discussions on elements of new sanctions resolution as early as next week. But Chinese officials have yet to agree to a date for such talks. And Chinese officials continue to insist publicly that they still prefer to resolve the nuclear standoff through diplomatic means, not economic sanctions.
The U.N.’s key powers are pursuing a dual-track policy towards Iran, including an offer of economic and diplomatic incentives to Iran if it allows greater scrutiny of its nuclear energy program or the threat of U.N. sanctions if it refuses.
The Security Council, including China, has already adopted three rounds of sanctions against Iran to compel it to halt its enrichment of uranium.
But Iran has refused to comply, insisting that it needs to produce uranium to fuel a peaceful nuclear energy program. In February, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran had "not provided the necessary cooperation" required to allow the Vienna-based organization to confirm that its nuclear activities are peaceful.
To head off sanctions, China and Russia have pressed Tehran to accept a big-power proposal to swap its enriched uranium for a foreign supply of nuclear fuel — possibly from France, Russia, or Turkey — for its medical research reactor. The proposal, which is backed by the United States, would ensure that Iran does not develop the capacity to process weapons-grade uranium.
In Beijing, Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, met Friday with top Chinese officials, including China’s foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, to discuss the nuclear standoff. But U.N. diplomats said that Tehran has rebuffed previous requests by China to accept the fuel swap.
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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