By Stephen Collinson
AFP, Honolulu, Hawaii, 12 November 2011 - President Barack Obama will Saturday personally impress upon the leaders of Russia and China deep US concerns over a UN watchdog’s report that Iran has worked on nuclear weapons systems.
But Moscow and Beijing are cool to a US call for more sanctions on Tehran following the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report which heightened fears of Israeli military action against Iranian nuclear sites.
Obama will get his first chance to discuss the report with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia and China’s President Hu Jintao in his native Hawaii in bilateral meetings on the eve of an Asia-Pacific economic summit.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security advisor, said Friday that the president would seek international consensus on new action against Tehran.
“I think the report just recently came out. I think everybody needs to take the time to review the report,” he said, when asked about vehement Russian criticism of the study.
“We will want to communicate directly with the Russians about our concerns with the report,” said Rhodes, who told reporters aboard Air Force One that Obama would also bring up the issue in talks with Hu.
Rhodes also signaled however that should UN Security Council permanent members Russia and China oppose further multi-lateral sanctions on Iran, Washington would seek to build support for sanctions elsewhere.
He said Washington would work with “likeminded states” to tighten a sanctions regime which US officials believe has brought the Iranian economy to a near standstill.
Earlier Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the nuclear tensions with Asia Pacific Ministers.
“Iran has a long history of deception and denial regarding its nuclear program and in the coming days we expect Iran to answer the serious questions raised by this report,” she said.
Tehran denies its program is meant to produce nuclear weapons. The IAEA report however said there was “credible” evidence to doubt its denials.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday it would take its time assessing the report.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov made clear that Moscow would resist the tougher sanctions no matter what the UN report said.
“Any additional sanctions against Iran will be interpreted by the international community as a means of changing the regime in Tehran,” Gatilov told Interfax.
“This approach is unacceptable to us, and Russia does not intend to review this proposal,” he said.
Russia has previously backed four rounds of UN Security Council restrictions on Iran while resisting the most crippling measures that could directly impact the two sides’ military and energy ties.
Medvedev has also condemned Israel’s warning that it was getting closer to launching a military strike on Iran for its suspected efforts to develop a nuclear bomb, with Medvedev slamming “extremely dangerous rhetoric.”
Winning Russia’s cooperation for deepening the isolation of Iran was a centerpiece of the “reset” of relations engineered with Moscow by the Obama administration.
The policy also produced a new nuclear disarmament pact between the two old War foes and resulted in the United States reconfiguring its plans for missile defense in Europe which have angered Russia.
But some observers are now questioning whether the policy has peaked, given that Medvedev, with whom Obama established a personal rapport, is expected to step aside next year to allow hardline Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to return to the presidency.
China also appears to be reluctant to permit further UN sanctions on Iran, after foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday such measures “cannot fundamentally solve the Iran issue.”
“Dialogue and negotiation are the right way out for the Iranian nuclear issue,” he told reporters.