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U.S., Russia agree on dissatisfaction with Iran over nuclear program

Obama meets with Medvedev at the APEC summit in Singapore, with both saying Iran has limited time to accept a proposal to outsource uranium enrichment. Obama then meets with students in Shanghai.

November 16, 2009|By Peter Nicholas and Borzou Daragahi

Reporting from Singapore, Shanghai and Beirut — Presenting a united front on Iran's nuclear energy program, President Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev warned Sunday that they were losing patience with Tehran and wouldn't wait much longer for it to accept a proposal to resolve the dispute.

After an hour-long meeting in Singapore on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the two leaders expressed dissatisfaction with Iran's response to a proposal to ship its enriched uranium abroad to be refined further for use in an Iranian reactor to produce medical isotopes. In Geneva last month, Iran agreed to the deal in principle, but Western officials said Iranian leaders have since put up obstacles.

"Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran appears to have been unable to say yes to what everyone acknowledges is a creative and constructive approach," Obama said after meeting with Medvedev. Obama called the offer to Iran a fair one.

If Tehran refuses, Obama said, "the alternative would be an approach that would involve increasing pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations."

Medvedev, for his part, said, "We're still not satisfied with the pace of advancement of the process."

Obama later flew on to China, and at a town hall-style meeting in Shanghai today he tried to reassure an audience of more than 400 students that Washington does not seek to continue the Cold War-era policy of containment. But he declared that the United States would speak out for human rights.

Students from eight Shanghai universities were present. They had to apply to attend and were interviewed and chosen by department heads.

The president then traveled to Beijing, where he held a 90-minute working dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao. The two leaders talked about economic challenges and ways to improve the lives of Chinese and Americans. Obama also focused on the importance of education in creating economic growth and opportunity. The pair will meet again Tuesday.

Russian leaders other than Medvedev, notably Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, have been more averse to the prospect of increased economic sanctions. U.S. officials said Iran had until the end of the year to act.

The United States and Russia hope the threat of more sanctions will be enough to win agreement from Iran, and officials said the two leaders discussed a timetable for possible actions.

The United States and many other Western powers allege that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons; the outsourcing proposal would diminish Iran's stockpile of uranium below the level needed to make a single nuclear bomb if it were further enriched. Iran insists its nuclear development program is for civilian energy purposes only.

On Sunday, Michael McFaul, a senior advisor to Obama, told reporters: "Both presidents said time is running out. And therefore we have to make preparations now to deal with the contingencies should the Iranians decide they don't want to be serious about the diplomatic path."

China is Iran's largest trading partner, and Obama will have his work cut out in persuading Beijing to apply more pressure on Tehran.

No Iranian official reacted immediately to the comments in Singapore. But the powerful speaker of Iran's parliament delivered some of his harshest words yet against Obama, who had taken office pledging to use diplomacy to overcome decades of hostility between Tehran and Washington and resolve the nuclear dispute.

Speaker Ali Larijani criticized the Obama administration for extending sanctions against the Islamic Republic for another year and seizing the U.S. assets of the Alavi Foundation, an Islamic charity allegedly linked to funding the Iranian nuclear program.

"One year after making hollow speeches and slogans, it is disgraceful that the attitude of the U.S. president was nothing different from that of his predecessor," Larijani said in an address Sunday to lawmakers, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"All these acts indicated that Obama's alleged changes were nothing more than a deceptive symbol for stupid politicians."

The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency continue to await a definitive response to a proposal to transfer the bulk of Iran's nuclear fuel to Russia and France to be further refined and fitted into fuel rods for a medical reactor in Tehran. Larijani, who has described the nuclear fuel proposal as against Iran's interests, dismissed such a deal as "unacceptable."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told an Israeli newspaper Sunday that his nation had grown pessimistic about the prospect of a deal. "In effect the answer has almost been given already, and it is negative," he told the daily Yediot Aharonot. "That's a shame, a shame, a shame."

He added: "We are waiting. This is not good, and very dangerous."

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