Obama confident of securing broad support for more U.N. sanctions against Iran

By Colum Lynch and Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 3, 2010

NEW YORK -- President 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 followed 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 April 12 and 13. In their conversation, the two discussed the "importance of working together" on Iran, the White House said.

China has long resisted American calls for U.N. sanctions against Iran, but this week, for the first time, it agreed to begin discussions on a possible resolution, according to U.S. and European diplomats.

A senior U.S. official said Washington hopes to get a vote on a sanctions resolution in April. But U.N. diplomats cautioned that they expect protracted negotiations with China over the substance.

"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."

Repeating assertions the administration has made previously, Obama said Iran's emergence as a nuclear weapons power would create "huge destabilizing effects in the region and will trigger an arms race in the Middle East." 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," Obama said.

Beijing's decision to engage in negotiations on Iran signaled a willingness to move beyond disputes with Washington over a range of issues, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Obama's recent meeting with the Dalai Lama and differences over currency rates. The issue is delicate for China in part because it maintains deep commercial ties with Tehran.

The United States, Britain, France and Germany have been pressing China and Russia to begin formal talks on a new sanctions resolution as early as next week. But Chinese officials have yet to agree to a date. And Chinese officials continue to insist publicly that they prefer to resolve the nuclear standoff through diplomacy.

The senior U.S. official noted that pressure on Iran was building even without a resolution, as banks and fuel companies halt business with its government.

But "we want and need a resolution to serve as a platform on which we can build more," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive policy issues. He said governments could use the resolution to legitimize a push for added sanctions of their own.

The Security Council, of which China is a permanent member, has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran to compel it to halt its enrichment of uranium.

Iran has refused to comply and has insisted 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 the country's nuclear activities are peaceful.

To head off sanctions, China and Russia have pressed Tehran to accept a proposal to swap its enriched uranium for a foreign supply of nuclear fuel -- possibly from France, Russia or Turkey -- for its medical research reactor. Iran has rebuffed that proposal.

Sheridan reported from Washington.

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