NEW YORK | The White House claimed a key victory Wednesday in its effort to create momentum toward sanctions against Iran for its pursuit of nuclear weapons, saying that comments by Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev after a meeting with President Obama represented a shift toward favoring punitive action.
“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.
Iran’s leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, spoke Wednesday evening at the United Nations, where he accused Jews of dominating the world and said they were responsible for “inhuman policies” against the Palestinians. In response, many foreign diplomats left the chamber.
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Michael McFaul, the president’s top Russia adviser, called Mr. Medvedev’s statement on Iran “a very big change in [Russia’s] position.” He said that the administration’s decision last week to drop a missile-defense plan that had angered the Kremlin had increased the odds of a change.
“We’re at a different place in U.S.-Russia relations,” he said.
Stephen Sestanovich, who was a White House adviser on Russia to President Reagan and a top State Department official under President Clinton, said that “Medvedev’s statement has a nice menacing undertone, but you can’t take undertones to the bank.”
“If the White House is trumpeting this, it may be because Medvedev made a firmer commitment behind closed doors,” Mr. Sestanovich said. “It doesn’t have to be made public to be significant, but it does have to be communicated to the Iranians themselves.”
The developments came at the end of a day when Mr. Obama, in his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly, delivered a tough challenge to the body that implied it faces irrelevance if it cannot take action against rogue nations such as Iran.
In his speech, Mr. Obama emphasized his administration’s ongoing talks with Russia over a new nuclear arms reduction agreement, and argued that because the U.S. is now abiding by international norms, agreements such as the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty should gain legitimacy and force.
Mr. Obama will chair the U.N. Security Council on Thursday — the first time a U.S. president has ever done so — and the panel is expected to adopt a resolution strengthening the treaty, which the president said states that “nations with nuclear weapons have the responsibility to move toward disarmament; and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.”
The president said that his effort to strengthen and enforce the treaty was “not about singling out individual nations” but that Iran, along with North Korea, “must be held accountable” if they continue to pursue nuclear weapons.
“Those nations that refuse to live up to their obligations must face consequences,” he said.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev discussed a range of “coercive actions” toward Iran that did not go beyond sanctions, though other types of enforcement actions are on the table in the broader discussion, Mr. McFaul said, declining to give details.