The day after he heralded a preliminary nuclear disarmament treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, President Barack Obama told ABC News that his approach to foreign affairs was already bearing modest fruit in efforts to disarm Iran and North Korea.
"In North Korea, what we saw was a very strong unanimity around a very strong sanctions regime that I think it's fair to say that even two or three years ago might not have been imposed by either Russia or China," the president said in an interview today at the Gostiny Dvor exhibition center in St. Petersburg, where he'd just finished speaking at the commencement address for the New Economic School. "They might have blocked it in the Security Council. We've already seen a ship of North Korea's turned back because of international effort to implement the sanctions and I think that is a positive step forward."
Obama said that Iran's "governing elites ... are going through a struggle that has been mirrored painfully and powerfully on the streets." He said that, "the fact that we have both said we are willing to work with Iran -- at the same time as we have been very clear about our grave deep concerns with respect to not just the violence, not just the detentions that have taken place -- has created a space where the international community can potentially join and pressure Iran more effectively than they have in the past."
That said, the president said that it was too early to declare the policy successful.
"Ultimately, we're going to have to see whether a country like Russia, for example, is willing to work with us to apply pressure on Iran to take a path toward international respectability as opposed to the path they're on," Obama said. "That's not something we're going to know the results of for several more months as we continue to do the hard diplomatic work of putting this coalition together to tell Iran: 'Make the better choice.'"
"Russia, I think understands that their long-term prosperity is still tied to the world economy and to the world community," he said, arguing that "on a whole host of international issues, they recognize that a partnership with the United States will strengthen them and their interests, so I think there's the opportunity for mutual benefit here."
He said of his new diplomatic efforts with Russia that the "tone" has been "reset" but now "comes the hard work of actually seeing this produce improvements in our security situation and the world security situation."
Having joked that he'd have to discuss Michael Jackson in order to get media coverage of the U.S.-Russian summit, the president said he wasn't at all irritated by the media attention to the funeral of the King of Pop.
"You know, this is part of American culture," the president said. "Michael Jackson, like Elvis, like Sinatra, when somebody who's captivated the imagination of the country for that long passes away, people pay attention. And I assume at some point, people will start focusing again on things like nuclear weapons."