SEOUL, South Korea – President Barack Obama said Thursday the United States has begun talking with allies about fresh punishment against Iran for defying efforts to halt its nuclear weapons pursuits.
Obama’s tough talk came as Iran indicated it would not ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia for processing, the centerpiece of a deal aimed at a peaceful resolution to Iran’s contested nuclear program.
“They have been unable to get to ‘yes,’ and so as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences,” Obama said in a brief news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Standing side by side, Obama and Lee signaled impatience with North Korea and declared fresh, united steps in getting that nation to give up its own nuclear weapons.
Lee said Obama had rallied behind his idea for a one-time “grand bargain” with North Korea of aid and concessions in exchange for de-nuclearization, rather than the stalled step-by-step process. And Obama said his envoy would travel to North Korea early next month for the first bilateral talks with the communist government since he took office.
The South Korea stop was the final dash of diplomacy for Obama on a weeklong Asia trip, and although he and Lee trumpeted the strength of their nations’ alliance, a stalled trade deal continues to vex them.
The ambitious South Korean-U.S. pact has bogged down over U.S. lawmakers’ worries it could hurt the struggling American auto industry.
Differences on the trade matter between Obama and Lee, though muted, were on display.
Obama offered public assurances that he was committed to getting the deal and that teams from both countries were working on the troubling issues. He gave some ground, saying Congress must recognize that U.S. doesn’t have the same imbalances as with other Asian nations, and they shouldn’t be lumped together.
Lee prodded, too, saying there are misperceptions in the U.S. that such a deal would only benefit South Korea and hurt American consumers.
On Iran, Obama seemed to advance the prospect of sanctions but held out the option of diplomacy. He said Iran must get a “clear message” and described a “package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran.”