HONOLULU – Engaging in high-level diplomacy with skeptical partners, President Barack Obama sought support from China and Russia on Saturday to confront Iran in the face of new allegations that it has been secretly trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Obama, after meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, said the two nations share a goal to “move Iran to follow its international obligations when it comes to its nuclear program.” Moments later, seated with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Obama said the U.S. and China want to ensure that Iran abides by “international rules and norms.”
Still the statements were broad declarations that did not address the United States’ push for more sanctions against Iran, a step Russia and China oppose.
Medvedev, for his part, was largely silent on Iran during his remarks, merely acknowledging that the subject was discussed. Hu did not mention Iran at all.
The two meetings presented the first opportunity for the three leaders to discuss Friday’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which raised new questions about Iran’s nuclear program. The watchdog agency provided evidence Tehran has conducted research, testing and procurement which could help it develop nuclear weapons. Tehran has rejected the material as a fabrication by the United States and its allies, maintaining its nuclear program is purely for energy and research.
Medvedev thanked Obama for his support in Russia’s expected entrance into the World Trade Organization, asserting that Russia has received more help from this administration than all previous ones.
Russia is expected to join the WTO next year, a step that would require Congress to approve permanent normal trade relations.
While trade was the central topic of the APEC meeting, Saturday was marked by diplomacy, with Obama looking to contain deepening worries over Iran.
For the U.S., the international report offered significant support for some long-held suspicions and lent international credence to claims that Tehran isn’t solely interested in developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
U.S. officials have said the IAEA report is unlikely to persuade reluctant powers such as China and Russia to support tougher sanctions on the Iranian government.
Meanwhile, placing high hopes on the economic power of Pacific Rim nations, Obama on Saturday also declared the Asia-Pacific region the heart of explosive growth for years to come. For businesses, he said, “this is where the action’s going to be.”
“There is no region in the world that we consider more vital than the Asia-Pacific region,” he told chief executives gathered for a regional economic summit.
Underscoring the region’s importance to the U.S., Obama on Saturday, as expected, announced the broad outlines of an agreement to create a transpacific trade zone encompassing the United States and eight other nations. He said details must still be worked out, but said the goal was to complete the deal by next year. ‘I’m confident we can get this done,” he said.
The eight countries joining the U.S. in the zone would be Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Japan is also a candidate to join the group.