U.S., allies moving quickly on sanctions against Iran, Obama says

By Glenn Kessler and William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; 2:44 PM

President Obama said Tuesday that the United States and its allies are moving quickly to develop "a significant regime of sanctions" against Iran over its nuclear program, which he described as being headed toward eventually producing nuclear weapons.

In a news briefing at the White House, Obama said he drew that conclusion from Iran's refusal so far to accept a proposed deal in which it would swap the bulk of its low-enriched uranium for higher-grade uranium fuel that it says is urgently needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Obama spoke after Iran announced that it had begun producing the higher-grade enriched uranium itself, marking a new and potentially dangerous turn in Tehran's confrontation with the West over its nuclear ambitions.

Iran couched its announcement in terms of a pressing need for fuel at a 41-year-old, U.S.-built research reactor that produces medical isotopes for an estimated 850,000 kidney, heart and cancer patients. But in reality it means that Iran will be a significant step closer to possessing the raw material needed to build a nuclear bomb.

Indeed, Iran does not have the expertise to build the specialized fuel rods needed for the research reactor -- only France and Argentina are expert at it -- so the main consequence of Iran's decision appears to be moving up the enrichment ladder.

In response to a question at the briefing, which was largely devoted to domestic issues, Obama said, "We have bent over backwards to say to the Islamic Republic of Iran that we are willing to have a constructive conversation about how they can align themselves with international norms and rules and reenter as full members of the international community."

He cited the proposed uranium swap, adding that "they rejected it." He noted, however, that a major difficulty in dealing with Iran is that "it's not always clear who's speaking on behalf of the government, and we get a lot of different mixed signals."

The refusal to accept a deal advocated by the world's major powers and the International Atomic Energy Agency "indicates to us that despite their posturing that their nuclear power is only for civilian use, that they in fact continue to pursue a course that would lead to weaponization," Obama said. "And that is not acceptable to the international community, not just to the United States."

He said tougher sanctions against Iran are "the next step," although "the door is still open" for an agreement.

"And what we are going to be working on over the next several weeks is developing a significant regime of sanctions that will indicate to them how isolated they are from the international community as a whole," Obama said. "We are going to be looking at a variety of ways in which countries indicate to Iran that their approach is unacceptable. And . . . the U.N. will be one aspect of that broader effort."

He praised Russia's response to the Iranian issue as "forward-leaning," adding, "I think they clearly have seen that Iran hasn't been serious about solving what is a solvable dispute between Iran and the international community."

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responded to Iran's announcement Tuesday by calling for immediate and "crippling" sanctions against Iran, "not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions," Reuters news agency reported.

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