New York Times: President Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said. The New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER and MARK LANDLER
WASHINGTON — President Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Mr. Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.
In a 90-minute conversation here before the opening of a summit meeting on nuclear security, Mr. Obama sought to win more cooperation from China by directly addressing one of the main issues behind Beijing’s reluctance to confront Iran: its concern that Iran could retaliate by cutting off oil shipments to China. The Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran.
Mr. Obama assured Mr. Hu that he was “sensitive to China’s energy needs” and would work to make sure that Beijing had a steady supply of oil if Iran cut China off in retaliation for joining in severe sanctions.
American officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of “international unity” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon.
Still, the session had distinct echoes of former President George W. Bush’s three efforts to corral Chinese support for United Nations Security Council penalties intended to make it prohibitively expensive for Iranian leaders to enrich uranium and to refuse to answer the questions posed by international nuclear inspectors.
In those cases, former American officials said, the Chinese agreed to go along with efforts to address Iran’s nuclear ambitions but then used Security Council negotiating sessions to water down the resolutions that ultimately passed.
Mr. Obama also used his meeting with Mr. Hu, the fourth face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the world’s largest economy and its biggest lender, to keep up the pressure on Beijing to let market forces push up the value of China’s currency. That is a critical political task for Mr. Obama, because the fixed exchange rate has kept Chinese goods artificially cheap and, in the eyes of many experts, handicapped American exports and cost tens of thousands of American jobs.
In anticipation of Monday’s meeting, Chinese officials told Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner last week that they were about to resume a controlled loosening of their exchange rate, which would increase the relative costs of Chinese exports.
Mr. Obama’s senior Asia adviser, Jeffrey A. Bader, told reporters after the meeting on Monday that Mr. Obama told Mr. Hu that a market oriented exchange rate would be “an essential contribution” to a “sustained and balanced economic recovery.”
The session with Mr. Hu came just before the opening of the first summit meeting devoted to the challenges of keeping nuclear weapons and material out of the hands of terrorists. At a dinner Monday evening in the cavernous Washington Convention Center, Mr. Obama led a discussion of the nature of the threat and the vulnerability of tons of nuclear material that could be fashioned into a weapon.
Earlier in the day, John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, offered a sampling of Mr. Obama’s argument when he told reporters that the United States had continuing evidence of Al Qaeda’s interest in obtaining highly enriched uranium or plutonium, the only materials from which a nuclear weapon can be made, and that it would be used “to threaten our security and world order in an unprecedented manner.”
But he cited no incidents beyond the now-famous campfire conversations that Osama bin Laden held in August 2001 with two Pakistanis who had deep ties to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons laboratories. While Al Qaeda has tried repeated purchases, Mr. Brennan said, “fortunately, I think they’ve been scammed a number of times, but we know that they continued to pursue that. We know of individuals within the organization that have been given that responsibility.”
The main focus of Mr. Obama’s meeting is to obtain commitments from each of the 47 countries attending to lock up or eliminate nuclear material.
One such agreement was announced Monday with Ukraine which, after the fall of the Soviet Union, was, because of its remainder stockpiles of nuclear missiles and bombs, briefly the world’s third-largest nuclear power. It gave up the arsenal, but for the past 10 years had resisted surrendering its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, held at research reactors and another nuclear center.
The Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit group that studies proliferation, has estimated Ukraine’s stockpile at 163 kilograms, or roughly enough for seven weapons.
According to a senior administration official, under the deal announced Monday the United States will pay to secure the highly enriched uranium, which will likely be sent to Russia for conversion into low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants. As part of the deal, the United States will also help supply Ukraine with new low-enriched fuel and a new research facility.
But over all, it was Iran that dominated the day, because the administration has a goal of putting sanctions in place this spring, Mr. Obama said in an interview with The New York Times last week.
On Monday, Mr. Obama laid out the details of the sanctions package for Mr. Hu, according to a senior White House official familiar with the discussion. These are likely to include additional measures to deny Iran access to international credit, choke off foreign investment in Iran’s energy sector and punish companies owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls swaths of Iran’s economy, as well as its nuclear program.
The administration is betting that a large segment of Iranian society detests the Revolutionary Guards for its role in suppressing the protests that followed elections last June, and may welcome properly targeted sanctions.
“Until two weeks ago, the Chinese would not discuss a sanctions resolution at all,” the official said. But the Obama administration, in hopes of winning over Beijing, has sought support from other oil producers to reassure China of its oil supply. Last year, it dispatched a senior White House adviser on Iran, Dennis B. Ross, to Saudi Arabia to seek a guarantee that it would help supply China’s needs, in the event of an Iranian cutoff.
“We’ll look for ways to make sure that if there are sanctions, they won’t be negatively affected,” said the senior official.
There was little evidence in the meeting of the succession of spats that have soured Chinese-American relations over the last several months, American officials said. While Mr. Hu raised Chinese complaints about American weapons sales to Taiwan, an official said, he did so fleetingly. And he did not mention Mr. Obama’s decision to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.