- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

NEW YORK | President Obama on Thursday put in place the final piece of this week’s effort to create international pressure on Iran’s nuclear program, using a bit of diplomatic theater to prod the United Nations to act against Tehran if upcoming talks do not yield positive results.

Mr. Obama’s decision to chair the Security Council, a first for any U.S. president, and unanimous support of a U.S.-sponsored resolution to prevent the spread of nuclear arms capped a week of moves by the Obama administration that left it feeling a bit of wind in its sails at a time when Iran appears to be closing in on the ability to make nuclear weapons.

“The world must stand together and demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise and that treaties will be enforced,” Mr. Obama said, moments after the 15-member council voted to make it harder to smuggle nuclear materials or to convert a nuclear energy program into a weapons program.

The president said that the resolution was not aimed at any one nation, but even his own supporters said that Iran and North Korea were its main targets.

“These efforts directly relate to preventing rogue states like Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons,” said Adam Blickstein of the National Security Network, a liberal foreign policy advocacy group.

Despite the momentum created by the president’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday, a positive meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which he signaled support for tough sanctions against Iran and the Security Council resolution on Thursday, a top White House adviser to Mr. Obama said the administration is not satisfied.

“There is growing impatience with Iran,” the senior foreign policy adviser said. “We will continue to press this issue with the urgency it demands.”

Later Thursday, China set back signs of progress when Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said greater diplomatic efforts, not strong sanctions, should be used to pressure Iran.

The first talks between the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — along with Germany and the European Union and Iranian representatives, are scheduled to start on Oct. 1 to discuss nuclear weapons. Tehran has indicated that it would talk about nuclear proliferation broadly without discussion of its own nuclear program.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is considered by many likely to order a military strike on Iran’s nuclear energy facilities in the next few months if talks do not produce results, also expressed a sense of urgency in a speech to the General Assembly.

“The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Are the member states of the United Nations up to that challenge?” Mr. Netanyahu said, raising the specter of another Holocaust if Iran, which wishes for the destruction of Israel, is allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

“The jury is still out on the United Nations, and recent signs are not encouraging,” the Israeli leader said, raising recent examples of what the Israelis believe is a long pattern of bias against the Jewish state.

On Thursday evening, Mr. Obama headed to Pittsburgh for a two-day meeting of the world’s largest economies, the Group of 20, where the focus shifted to the global economy, though analysts said Iran would be a topic of discussion

Mr. Obama’s play to empower and work through international institutions such as the United Nations, a clear break with the more unilateral policies of the Bush administration, drew heavy criticism from some corners.

John R. Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Bush, said Mr. Obama’s actions this week revealed “naivety and Wilsonianism in foreign policy that’s been absent for decades and that really signals weakness to America’s friends and allies around the world.”

“The idea that the ineffective United Nations can be a centerpiece for American foreign policy, I think we find dangerous and really, very highly risky,” he said.

In an unusual move, Mr. Bolton voiced his concerns in a message sent out by the Republican National Committee, which included audio for use by radio stations.

The White House struck back with force. Susan E. Rice, Mr. Obama’s ambassador to the U.N., said that Mr. Bolton presided over “policies that alienated the United States from the rest of the world and left our standing in the world at an all-time low.”

“This is John Bolton, who wanted to take 10 stories off the U.N. building, who had utter disdain for international cooperation,” she told CNN, referring to Mr. Bolton’s comment that the United Nations could get rid of its top 10 floors and no one would notice. “It doesn’t surprise me that he wouldn’t like a speech in which the United States acknowledged that, in the 21st century, when the nature of the challenges that threaten our security are inherently transnational … no one nation, including one as powerful as our own, can tackle [them] in isolation.”

The passage of Security Council Resolution 1887 was virtually guaranteed by extensive advance work conducted by U.S. diplomats. Mr. Obama had only to enter the council chamber, make a circuit of the room to shake hands with the many leaders and diplomats eager to meet him, and gavel the session to order and hold a vote as the first order of business.

One of the resolution’s chief results will be to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, by making it more difficult to withdraw from the treaty that binds signatories without nuclear weapons to refrain from pursuing them. The resolution also recognized the Security Council as the primary body authorized to deal with countries who violate the treaty.

Iran is a signatory to the treaty, though North Korea is not.

“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 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,” said James M. Lindsay, a foreign-policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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.

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.

In Pittsburgh, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told reporters that Iran would not be a primary topic of discussion. But Jim Rickards, a global economics analyst with Omnis Inc., said that the G-20 is just as vital to a sanctions regime as the United Nations is.

“The United Nations might vote for these sanctions, but they need the world to join in,” Mr. Rickards said. “It doesn’t do any good if India is going to send gasoline to Iran and if Brazil does direct investment in their energy sector.”

In fact, China recently began supplying up to a third of Tehran’s daily gasoline imports after U.S. and Indian companies stopped selling fuel to the Iranian regime, the Financial Times reported Wednesday.

Iran is close to having enough low-enriched uranium to convert to fuel for a weapon and has the technical knowledge on how to do so, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last week.

China and Russia pose the two biggest obstacles to the development of new sanctions against Tehran, but the White House believes that a meeting between Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev on Wednesday yielded new agreement from the Russian leader to support sanctions if talks are not productive.

Israeli advocates remained skeptical.

“It remains to be seen if Russia and China will play a helpful role, stand on the sidelines or sabotage the effort,” said Josh Block, a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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