Analysis: For Obama Administration, Iran Disclosure Is Two-Fold

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009; 2:12 PM

The disclosure of a second uranium enrichment site in Iran is at once a setback and a way forward for the Obama administration.

It effectively spells the end of the engagement effort that President Obama had pledged to pursue upon taking office. But it also presents a clear path toward building an international consensus for sterner action against Tehran, as Obama can forcefully press the case that Iran has been caught, red-handed, in yet another violation of international rules.

Negotiations will continue, but at next week's meeting in Geneva, the United States and its allies will have more evidence to demand that Iran fully disclose its nuclear activities by the end of the year.

Indeed, Russia's initial reaction to the new Iranian disclosure was unusually forceful and blunt on Friday.

"Iran's construction of a uranium enrichment plant violates decisions of the United Nations Security Council," according to an official statement from the Kremlin, which demanded that the International Atomic Energy Agency "investigate this site immediately" and Iran "cooperate with this investigation."

Iran has denied that the new site represents a violation of its international obligations, so the Kremlin's blunt dismissal of that claim must have been particularly gratifying to Washington. During the Bush administration, Russia -- after much haggling -- agreed three times to support U.N. Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran, but it insisted on watering them down, and then would claim the sanctions were not effective.

Even Russian President Dimitri Medvedev's remarks on Iran earlier this week were somewhat obtuse.

Now the question is whether Russia will be prepared to take even tougher action if Iran resists full disclosure, such as canceling fuel shipments to the Bushehr reactor that Moscow constructed.

China probably remains the most difficult obstacle to broad international sanctions. The Chinese reaction on Friday was much weaker than the Kremlin statement.

"We hope that the IAEA will deal with the matter according to its terms of reference and its mandate," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said in a brief statement. "It is also our hope that Iran will cooperate with the IAEA on this matter."

Another official, He Yafei, the vice minister for foreign affairs, stressed the need for negotiations. "You talk about punishment, and personally I don't like the word 'punishment,' and I think all issues can only be solved through dialogue and negotiation," he told reporters at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

The Financial Times reported Tuesday that Chinese state companies this month began supplying refined gasoline to Iran and now provide up to one-third of the country's imports, effectively filling the gap left by such companies as British Petroleum and Reliance of India as they stopped selling gasoline to Iran in the past year. Iran is one of the world's oil producers, but it does not have enough refiners to produce its gasoline, requiring it to rely increasingly on imports.

Lawmakers in Congress have pressed for new sanctions on Iran to include a ban on gasoline imports, but the rush by Chinese companies to sell to Iran demonstrates how difficult it may be to erect an effective sanctions regime.

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