Presenting a united front on Iran’s nuclear energy program, President Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev warned Sunday that they were losing patience with Tehran and wouldn’t wait much longer for it to accept a proposal to resolve the dispute.
After an hourlong meeting in Singapore on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the two leaders expressed dissatisfaction with Iran’s response to a proposal to ship its enriched uranium abroad to be refined further for use in an Iranian reactor to produce medical isotopes. In Geneva last month, Iran agreed to the deal in principle, but Western officials said Iranian leaders have since put up obstacles.
“Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran appears to have been unable to say yes to what everyone acknowledges is a creative and constructive approach,” Obama said after meeting with Medvedev. Obama called the offer to Iran a fair one.
If Tehran refuses, Obama said, “the alternative would be an approach that would involve increasing pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations.”
Medvedev, for his part, said, “We’re still not satisfied with the pace of advancement of the process.”
Obama moved on to China after the meeting in Singapore, and at a town hall-style meeting in Shanghai today he tried to reassure an audience of more than 400 students that Washington does not seek to continue the Cold War-era policy of containment. But he declared that the U.S. would speak out for human rights.
Students from eight Shanghai universities were present. They had to apply to attend and were interviewed and chosen by department heads.
Russian leaders other than Medvedev, notably Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have been more averse to the prospect of increased economic sanctions. U.S. officials said Iran had till year-end to act.
The U.S. and Russia hope the threat of more sanctions will be enough to win agreement from Iran, and officials said the two leaders discussed a timetable for possible actions.
The U.S. and many other Western powers allege that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons; the outsourcing proposal would diminish Iran’s stockpile of uranium below the level needed to make a single nuclear bomb if it were further enriched. Iran insists its nuclear development program is for civilian energy purposes only.
On Sunday, Michael McFaul, a senior advisor to Obama, told reporters, “Both presidents said time is running out. And therefore we have to make preparations now to deal with the contingencies should the Iranians decide they don’t want to be serious about the diplomatic path.”
China is Iran’s largest trading partner, and Obama will have his work cut out in persuading Beijing to apply more pressure on Tehran.
No Iranian official reacted immediately to the comments in Singapore. But the powerful speaker of Iran’s parliament delivered some of his harshest words yet against Obama, who had taken office pledging to use diplomacy to overcome decades of hostility between Tehran and Washington and resolve the nuclear dispute.
Speaker Ali Larijani criticized the Obama administration for extending sanctions against the Islamic Republic for another year and seizing the U.S. assets of the Alavi Foundation, an Islamic charity allegedly linked to funding the Iranian nuclear program.
“One year after making hollow speeches and slogans, it is disgraceful that the attitude of the U.S. president was nothing different from that of his predecessor,” Larijani said in an address Sunday to lawmakers, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
“All these acts indicated that Obama’s alleged changes were nothing more than a deceptive symbol for stupid politicians.”
The U.S. and the International Atomic Energy Agency continue to await a definitive response to a proposal to transfer the bulk of Iran’s nuclear fuel to Russia and France to be further refined and fitted into fuel rods for a medical reactor in Tehran. Larijani, who has described the nuclear fuel proposal as against Iran’s interests, dismissed such a deal as “unacceptable.”
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told an Israeli newspaper Sunday that his nation had grown pessimistic about the prospect of a deal. “In effect the answer has almost been given already, and it is negative,” he told the daily Yediot Aharonot. “That’s a shame, a shame, a shame.”
He added, “We are waiting. This is not good, and very dangerous.”
In their private meeting, Obama and Medvedev also discussed arms control between their nations, which are negotiating a nuclear arms reduction treaty that would succeed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty set to expire early next month.
White House officials said they expected to agree to keep the arms control arrangements in place until the two governments forge a new accord, which would need to be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma.
In recent weeks, Ellen Tauscher, U.S. undersecretary of State for arms control, has expressed disappointment over the Russian response to an offer put forward by the U.S. After Sunday’s meeting, Obama expressed confidence the two nations would meet the Jan. 1 deadline “if we work hard and with a sense of urgency about it.”
Obama and Medvedev joined other leaders of the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting for discussions on a number of economic and social issues.
For Obama, the visit and meetings in Asia are part of a broader effort to reengage in a region that many believe the U.S. has neglected -- while China, an emerging global superpower, has significantly increased its influence.
Obama’s agenda includes pressing for a shift in Asian economic policies to buy more American goods as well as laying out his vision on nuclear nonproliferation, the environment and human rights. So far, he hasn’t come away with many tangible results.
In Singapore, he and other APEC leaders acknowledged that it was unlikely that next month’s U.N. summit on climate change in Copenhagen would result in a binding accord, and as such agreed that they should instead focus on a more limited agreement.
Obama will be discussing climate change with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, in Beijing. And Obama is also expected to raise two other sensitive topics -- Chinese currency policy and human rights.
The U.S. was met with criticism of protectionism from Mexico and others in Singapore, and the APEC statement issued at the conclusion of the summit did not mention currency exchange policies, something that was resisted by Chinese officials.
In his main speech of the trip, delivered in Japan, Obama spoke about the importance of human rights, but he did not mention Tibet or other specifics related to China. The president did cite concerns about Myanmar’s military regime, and during a meeting in Singapore with the smaller Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Myanmar, White House officials said he reiterated his call for the release of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The ASEAN group’s joint statement, however, made no mention of Suu Kyi.
Times staff writer Don Lee in Washington and special correspondent Jean Yung in Shanghai contributed to this report.