- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

SINGAPORE | President Obama held a lengthy session here Sunday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which the two leaders pledged to work together to hem in Iran’s nuclear program and renew a nuclear disarmament treaty that is set to expire in less than three weeks.

Mr. Medvedev continued to signal that he would be willing to join the United States in imposing sanctions on Iran, saying that if negotiations fail, “the other options remain on the table in order to move the process in a different direction.”

“We’re still not satisfied with the pace of advancement of the process,” Mr. Medvedev said.

The presidents met during a dizzying day of high-level talks in this tropical city-state, the second of four Asian countries Mr. Obama is visiting this week. His day began with a hastily called breakfast where the Danish prime minister conceded that a legally binding global climate change agreement was no longer within reach. And his day concluded with what aides called an “intervention” with Myanmar on the subject of human rights.

Mr. Obama flew here ostensibly to talk with Asian leaders about the global economy and trade at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference. But the detailed talks about the next generation of a START nuclear treaty, Iran’s nuclear program and a proposal of scaled-back goals on climate change took center stage.

The U.S. president emerged from a lengthy session at the posh Shangri-La hotel with Mr. Medvedev to say he remains confident that the missile reduction treaty, which expires Dec. 5, will be replaced by a new agreement by the end of this year. And, in statements the two leaders made to assembled reporters, they expressed impatience with Iran.

Mr. Obama called the proposal that has been offered to Iran “fair.”

“Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran has been unable to say ‘yes,’ ” he said. “We now are running out of time with respect to that approach.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. Obama adjusted his schedule to attend the breakfast, which involved 19 world leaders who wanted to discuss climate change.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen flew here Sunday to try to salvage plans for the upcoming Copenhagen summit on global climate change and emerged with a general commitment for a “political” agreement, even though it will not be legally binding.

Mr. Obama spoke in support of Mr. Rasmussen’s proposal. He told the gathered heads of state that they faced two choices, given the looming reality that a firm agreement would not be reached in time for the Copenhagen meeting.

“One was to have a political declaration that said we tried, we didn’t achieve an agreement and we’ll keep on trying,” the president told the group, according to Michael Froman, a senior aide. “The other was to see if we could reach the sort of accord that the Danish prime minister laid out that would have immediate operational impact even as a step towards ongoing negotiations.”

Mr. Obama told the group that the half-step forward was preferable to doing nothing. But the last-minute grasp for some sort of agreement only managed to underscore the failure of world leaders to gain enough ground on the issue to get it resolved in Copenhagen.

At moments during Mr. Rassmussen’s remarks, which Danish officials released after the breakfast, it was clear he was settling for an agreement that fell short of his initial expectations.

“Even if we may not hammer out the last dots of a legally binding instrument, I do believe a political binding agreement with specific commitment to mitigation and finance provides a strong basis for immediate action in the years to come,” he said.

“We are not aiming to let anyone off the hook,” he told the leaders. “We are trying to create a framework that will allow everybody to commit.”

The climate change announcement was made on Mr. Obama’s second day of economic meetings with the leaders of Asian Pacific nations - sessions that have largely been focused on a desire for expanded trade in the region.

Mr. Obama laid out a policy that envisions adjusting the flow of goods so that Asian nations consume more American exports, and Americans do a better job of reining in debt.

“This won’t just lead to more balanced growth,” he told the APEC leaders, “it has the potential to create millions of new, well-paying jobs.”

He said an increase of American exports to APEC countries by just 5 percent would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. But the proposals have not been able to temper concerns among foreign leaders here that Mr. Obama and Democrats in Congress are too beholden to labor unions to reach long-sought free-trade agreements.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon hammered the point during his remarks to the group.

“Protectionism is killing North American companies,” Mr. Calderon said. “The American government is facing political pressure that has not been counteracted.”

Labor officials, though, said the APEC nations needed to take the first step in starting to correct the imbalance. Asked what she wanted to see from Mr. Obama at the economic sessions in Singapore, Thea Lee, the policy director and chief international economist at the AFL-CIO, urged him to put more pressure on American trading partners.

“We hope he will raise issues to address both our many imbalanced trade relationships in Asia, and human and worker rights concerns,” she told The Washington Times.

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