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Obama warns Tehran: Window is closing

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

President Obama said Wednesday that time is running out for Iran to accept a diplomatic solution that would halt its suspected program to develop nuclear weapons.

"The window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking," Mr. Obama said at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden with British Prime Minister David Cameron. "Tehran must understand that it cannot escape or evade the choice before it — meet your international obligations or face the consequences."

The question of Iran's nuclear ambitions was high on the agenda Wednesday in an Oval Office meeting between the two leaders. Mr. Obama reiterated his desire to allow economic sanctions to force Iran to give up its program.

But the president acknowledged that Iran's leaders have shown a tendency "to delay, to stall, to do a lot of talking but not actually move the ball forward."

"Do I have a guarantee that Iran will walk through this door that we're offering them? No," Mr. Obama said. "I think they should understand that because the international community has applied so many sanctions, because we have employed so many of the options that are available to us to persuade Iran to take a different course, that the window for solving this issue diplomatically is shrinking."

Mr. Cameron said the president's "tough, reasonable approach has united the world behind unprecedented sanctions pressure."

But the prime minister also said that "nothing is off the table," including military action.

"That is essential for the safety of the region and the wider world," Mr. Cameron said.

Last week, in meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Obama said he wanted more time for sanctions to work to compel Iran to give up any plans to develop nuclear weapons. Israel reportedly is more intent on bombing Iranian facilities.

In Tehran on Wednesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was dragged before parliament to face unprecedented questioning over his policies, suffering another blow from hard-line opponents who now have the upper hand.

The full hour of posturing, potshots and probing — broadcast live on Iranian radio — was a lesson in the unforgiving realities of Iran's two-tiered political system and how it shapes all critical decisions, including Tehran's nuclear program and the standoff that program has created with the West.

The ruling Islamic clerics retain ultimate control over every key aspect of political, military and industrial affairs, including hand-picking the top posts in the government.

When Mr. Ahmadinejad offered some resistance, the blowback was harsh, with one-time conservative backers breaking away and the ruling system launching political purges of his allies.

The parliamentary grilling included no questions about the nuclear program or Iran's response to Western sanctions.

"We didn't want to come," Mr. Ahmadinejad acknowledged to the 290-seat chamber.

Then he vowed to be a "good student" and answer the accusations point by point. They included allegations that he had mismanaged the economy and questions about his high-profile political temper tantrum in April, when he stayed away from Cabinet meetings for 11 days after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the reinstatement of the intelligence minister whom Mr. Ahmadinejad had dismissed.

The current parliament is evenly split between Mr. Ahmadinejad's critics and backers, but the new chamber — which will be seated in May — is firmly in control of his opponents. Only a handful of seats are held by reformers, marginalized since mass street demonstrations failed to overturn the disputed 2009 election in which Mr. Ahmadinejad was re-elected.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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