Obama gives Iran deadline on nuclear program

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L’AQUILA, Italy — President Obama said Friday that Iran faces a September deadline to show good-faith efforts to halt its nuclear weapons program, and said the statement issued by the world’s leading industrial nations meeting here this week means the international community is ready to act.

The president also said the current system of international organizations is a relic of the 20th century and needs to be updated, but also said the United Nations needs to step up and fulfill its role. He spoke at a press conference wrapping up three days of meetings here with the Group of Eight top economies — exactly the sort of international institution that’s come under fire for excluding major countries.

On Iran, Mr. Obama raised expectations for a September international summit in Pittsburgh, saying the invited nations will take stock of whether Iran has complied with international demands over its nuclear programs. He also denied reports that Washington tried but failed to achieve agreement on new sanctions here, saying the statement was what he wanted.

“It provides a time frame,” Mr. Obama said. “If Iran chooses not to walk through that door, then you have on record the G-8 to begin with, but I think potentially a lot of other countries, that are going to say we need to take further steps.”

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In sharp contrast to Mr. Obama’s upbeat tone, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev struck a confrontational note by reviving Moscow’s tough talk about a proposed U.S. defensive missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. U.S. officials say the system is designed to deter rogue nations, particularly Iran, but the Kremlin has long complained the shield could be used to neutralize Russian’s own nuclear arsenal.

In sharp contrast to his positive words during Mr. Obama’s visit to Moscow earlier this week when the two reached broad agreement on nuclear arms cuts, Mr. Medvedev in his own post-summit news briefing here returned to Russia’s earlier tough rhetoric. He said his earlier threat to post short-range missiles in its central European enclave Kaliningrad on the Polish border was still in effect if the United States pursued the the missile defense program.

“If we don’t manage to agree on the issues, you know the consequences. What I said during my state of the nation address has not been revoked,” Mr. Medvedev told reporters.

Iran insists its nuclear programs are intended solely for civilian needs. The president said the U.S. and its partners are “not going to just wait indefinitely” while Iran works on a nuclear weapon.

Fielding a handful of questions, Mr. Obama also announced he has secured $20 billion in commitments to fund food security programs designed to try to provide aid amid rising world food prices.

He recounted for reporters a story he had told leaders at a meeting earlier Friday in which he said he has family members in Kenya who live in villages where “hunger is real” — though he stressed his family members do not go hungry.

Mr. Obama also said when his father, a Kenyan, came to the U.S. about a half-century ago, Kenya’s economy was the same size as South Korea’s. Since then, South Korea has developed rapidly, while Kenya has not.

The president chided African leader, saying it was not enough to blame Western colonialism for the continent’s woes. Continued poverty is a result, he said, of corruption and inefficient governments.

“In many African countries, if you want to start a business or get a job, you have to pay a bribe,” he said.

“If you talk to people on the ground in Africa, certainly in Kenya, they will say that part of the issue here is the institutions aren’t working for ordinary people,” he said.

Those comments came hours before Mr. Obama makes his first visit as president to a sub-Saharan African country. He will spend nearly a day in Ghana, where he will deliver a speech to the country’s parliament. The president was also scheduled to meet later Friday with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.

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