NEW YORK | President Obama on Thursday became the first U.S. president to chair a U.N. Security Council meeting, presiding over the passage of a resolution intended to make it harder for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.
Mr. Obama entered the grand and historic hall, made a brief circuit around the room to shake hands with many of the leaders present, and then convened the meeting with a rap of the gavel.
The resolution was passed unanimously by all 15 members of the Security Council, a result virtually guaranteed by extensive advance work conducted by U.S. diplomats. Resolution 1887 will limit the spread of nuclear weapons already existing and will strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"The Security Council has both the authority and the responsibility to respond to violations to this treaty, . . . to determine and respond as necessary when violations of this treaty threaten international peace and security," Mr. Obama said.
"The world must stand together and demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise and that treaties will be enforced," he said.
Mr. Obama heralded ongoing talks between the United States and Russia on reducing nuclear arms stockpiles as evidence that Washington was leading the way toward a world free of nuclear weapons, though he has said before that as long as other countries hold nuclear weapons, the United States will do so.
The president also insisted that the resolution just adopted was not aimed at any one country, but many private analysts say the target is no mystery.
"This is clearly aimed at Iran," said James M. Lindsay, a foreign-policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The resolution "says that countries that belong to the NPT cannot opt out, that is, they cannot abide by NPT regulations during the pursuit of peaceful uses of nuclear weapons and then, when they get well down the nuclear road, opt out and develop their weapons programs," he said.
The development continues movement toward what the White House envisions as a multipronged strategy toward constraining Tehran and other rogue countries such as North Korea from pursuing nuclear weapons.
Four former high-level U.S. government officials who have joined together on the spread of nuclear weapons -- former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, former national security adviser Henry Kissinger and former Sen. Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat -- said the Security Council meeting brought "much needed global focus" to the issue.
"By convening heads of state, the meeting can help build the necessary political will around the urgent steps required to reduce nuclear dangers," the group said.
The White House on Wednesday claimed it had gained a key concession from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose comments they interpreted as being a move toward supporting tougher sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear programs. Iran insists its nuclear programs are for peaceful, civilian purposes.
"Sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable," Mr. Medvedev said after a meeting with Mr. Obama that White House advisers said focused almost exclusively on Iran's march toward a nuclear bomb.
The five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain - along with Germany and the European Union, will send representatives to meet with Iranian representatives on Oct. 1 to discuss nuclear weapons, though Tehran has indicated it will talk about nuclear proliferation broadly without discussion of its own nuclear program.
And next spring, Mr. Obama will host a conference in Washington aimed at locking down all loose nuclear materials around the world in four years.
In a broader sense, Mr. Obama's decision to chair the Security Council was a sign of respect for the international body, aimed at strengthening its ability to level effective sanctions against countries that develop nuclear weapons in violation of the NPT. Relations between the United Nations and the George W. Bush administration were strained.
The chair of the Security Council rotates monthly on an alphabetical basis. The United States and most other countries usually send a high-level government representative to chair the meeting.