PITTSBURGH | President Obama’s decision to confront Iran with evidence of a secret nuclear production site Friday was the culmination of a deliberate strategy over the past nine months to gain maximum impact from the disclosure by building up to it with other steps on the world stage.
A high-ranking administration official told The Washington Times that while the White House knew about Iran’s construction of a second uranium enrichment plant before Mr. Obama took office in January, it waited to drop the bombshell until U.S. officials had conducted extensive diplomatic advance work.
The preparations go back to Mr. Obama’s inaugural promise to engage in meaningful dialogue with Iran to two letters he sent to Iran’s supreme leader, which led to Tehran’s agreeing to sit down with negotiators from the U.S. and other world powers on Oct. 1. Mr. Obama has lobbied or spoken to key leaders for months, including Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Last week the White House scrapped a missile defense plan that had infuriated Russia, smoothing the way for closer cooperation. That was followed by a progression of moves that played out at the United Nations. Mr. Obama gave a broad speech to the General Assembly that included an appeal to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He then bolstered the treaty procedurally with the passage of a Security Council resolution at a meeting he chaired, the first U.S. president to do so.
In between the speech and the council vote, Mr. Obama held meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose governments are key to further U.N. sanctions against Iran.
“It’s important to see what happened today building on what happened in New York,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference to close out the week, adding that his overall strategy to keep an open hand toward Iran had succeeded in isolating Tehran on the world stage.
“That means that, when we find that diplomacy does not work, we will be in a much stronger position to, for example, apply sanctions that have bite,” he said.
A high-ranking government official in Washington who has been involved in the strategy formulation said that the engagement policy, which has been roundly criticized by many conservatives and foreign policy hawks, had “create* a new landscape, a landscape where the Iranians would look out and realize they really were sitting there alone.”
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that, “The Iranians are in a very bad spot now,”
U.S. officials said they had been developing the intelligence about the uranium plant for some time to have it ready for important meetings this week, but the exact timing was influenced by a Iranian letter to the IAEA on Monday admitting that a second enrichment plant was under construction but providing few details.
At the United Nations, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defended the plant near the Iranian theological center of Qom as within IAEA rules because Iran has not yet introduced nuclear materials into it.
However, Mr. Obama said Iran had violated U.N. resolutions and IAEA rules by not informing the nuclear watchdog in advance about the project.
“Iran’s actions have raised grave doubts” about Iranian claims that they are only pursuing the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” he said. “Iran is on notice when we meet with them Oct. 1. … They’re going to have to come clean and they’re going to have to make a choice.”
It is still unclear whether Iran will bow to international pressure. Some nuclear experts noted that the discovery of a clandestine site suggests that Iran could have many more.
“The Iranians are teaching us the limits of what we are overselling,” said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.View Entire Story
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