Obama and other world leaders press Iran on its nuclear program

With the president of France at his side, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday he hopes to have international sanctions against Iran in place 'within weeks,' not months, because of its continuing nuclear program. (March 30)
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post staff writer
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

President Obama and ministers from the world's top industrialized countries turned up the heat on Iran on Tuesday, raising the prospect of new U.N. sanctions within weeks to discourage its nuclear program.

"My hope is we are going to get this done this spring," Obama said after holding talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the White House. "I'm not interested in waiting months."

In a meeting outside Ottawa, meanwhile, foreign ministers from Group of Eight countries expressed growing alarm about the Iranian nuclear program. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said at a news conference that "it is time for the international community to take appropriate steps to persuade Iran" to rein in its nuclear program.

The Obama administration has sought a "two-track" approach toward Iran, offering to hold talks on cooperation but threatening sanctions if the country appeared set on building a bomb. The administration had initially sought to impose sanctions by the end of 2009.

But Russia and China balked. Both countries, veto-wielding members of the Security Council, have shown signs lately that they could support punitive measures.

Obama acknowledged in his remarks the lack of agreement on sanctions.

"Do we have unanimity in the international community? Not yet. But that's something that we have to work on," he said.

While China is still publicly calling for more time to allow diplomacy to work, its officials are quietly signaling that they may support sanctions, U.S. officials say. The Chinese government recently joined a conference call with five other world powers on proposed penalties for Iran.

A senior official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters that the Chinese "have said they will engage in the elements of a resolution." He spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject.

Clinton said at the news conference that coming weeks "will be ones of intense negotiation in the Security Council" on a sanctions resolution. But she expressed optimism about the outcome.

Russia has indicated an increasing willingness in recent weeks to support sanctions, after trying unsuccessfully to persuade Iran to work with the international community on a nuclear swap that would have allowed the Islamic republic to maintain a peaceful program.

Iran denies that its nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb, and insists that its goal is to supply energy.

Improved U.S. insight into Iran's nuclear intentions is partly the result of high-level defections of Iranian scientists and military officers. On Tuesday, ABC News reported that U.S. officials had confirmed the defection of Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri, who vanished last summer during a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The report said Amiri had defected to the CIA in an "intelligence coup" and had been resettled in the United States.

Amiri was a researcher at Iran's Malek Ashtar University, which is connected to Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and was linked in a recent European Union report to Iran's nuclear program. Iran had accused the United States last fall of being involved in Amiri's disappearance. The CIA has repeatedly declined to comment on Amiri's fate.

Richard A. Clarke, a former national security adviser to the administrations of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said that Amiri was part of a network of scientists with security clearances, and that he would have had general awareness of the research of others in his group. "He could know more than the Iranians thought he knew," Clarke said.

Staff writers Anne E. Kornblut and Joby Warrick contributed to this report.

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