By Heather Maher, RFE/RL
U.S. President Barack Obama said the door is still open for Iran to chose negotiation over sanctions.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama says he wants to see a tough new round of sanctions against Iran taken up by the UN Security Council "within weeks."
Speaking March 30 at a joint White House press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama said he and the French leader are "united" in their determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"My hope is that we are going to get this done this spring. So I'm not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place, I'm interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks," Obama said.
Sarkozy said "the time has come to take decisions" on Iran and he vowed to work with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to "make all necessary efforts to make sure that Europe as a whole engages in the sanctions regime."
G8 Urges Pressure
Earlier in the day, at a meeting of the G8 in Quebec, foreign ministers of the world's leading industrialized nations issued a communique that urged the international community to take "appropriate and strong steps" to show its resolve over Iran's nuclear program.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper told the group -- which includes the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia -- "Tehran must halt its nuclear enrichment activities and engage in peaceful dialogue."
Iran's Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility south of Tehran
Iran says its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes
The latest fears over Iran's nuclear ambitions were raised in February, when the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it believed Iran may be trying to develop a missile with nuclear capabilities.
Tehran denies that its nuclear program is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
Obama said Iran's nuclear ambitions 'have enormous implications for the safety and the security" of the Mideast and warned that a regional conflict "could have a huge destabilizing effect in terms of the world economy at a time when it's just coming out of a very deep recession."
But even as he signaled that sanctions were imminent, he left the door open for Iran to change its mind and sit down at the negotiating table.
"The long term consequences of a nuclear armed Iran are unacceptable," he said. "And so, [French President ] Nicholas [Sarkozy], myself, and others agree that we have engaged, the door remains open if the Iranians choose to walk through it."
He added, "In the interim, we are going to move forcefully on a UN sanctions regime."
The latest U.S.-drafted sanctions proposal would expand an existing UN blacklist to include members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and firms controlled by it.
American diplomats have engaged diplomatically for months with leaders from the Mideast to the Far East in their drive to make the case that the hand Obama reached out to Tehran last year has been met only with a clenched fist.
Washington has pressed Russia and China especially hard, since both countries have traditionally opposed tough sanctions on Iran and both hold veto power in the UN Security Council.
Moscow has shown signs of coming around to the U.S. position and now Beijing appears to have shifted its position slightly.
On March 30, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that his government opposed Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. But he stopped short of backing new sanctions, saying only that China hoped "that all sides will make substantive efforts and demonstrate flexibility over the Iran nuclear issue."
China's huge appetite for Iranian oil is seen as one of the biggest reasons it is reluctant to punish Tehran. Obama acknowledged as much when he said, "there are a lot of countries around the world that, regardless of Iran's offenses, are thinking that their commercial interests are more important to them than these long term geopolitical interests."
At the G8 meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "China will be involved" as the Security Council prepares a sanctions package. She also expressed optimism that the council would be able to reach a consensus.
In Washington, her boss didn't sound as sure when he acknowledged that there isn't yet across-the-board agreement in the international community, adding, "That's something that we have to work on."
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