President Obama heralded progress made in drafting sanctions against Iran as punishment for its nuclear weapons program, even as he downplayed expectations for what the sanctions could accomplish.
“Sanctions aren't a magic wand,” the president said. “What sanctions do accomplish is, hopefully, to change the calculus of a country like Iran, so that they see that there are more costs and fewer benefits to pursuing a nuclear-weapons program. “
It was unclear if the president was downplaying expectations for the impact of the sanctions because the Chinese government had indicated it would only commit to sanctions that would have a modest impact.
When asked by ABC News just what specific actions Chinese President Hu Jintao had committed to him regarding sanctions – White House officials said Monday that President Hu had agreed in principle to sanctions — President Obama said only: “Here's what I know. The Chinese have sent official representatives to negotiations in New York, to begin the process of drafting a sanctions resolution. “
The president said he wanted to see the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, China, UK, Russia and France – “move forward boldly and quickly, to send the kind of message that will allow Iran to make a different calculation.”
Mr. Obama allowed that China, as a major importer of oil from Iran, is “obviously concerned about what ramifications this might have on the economy generally… But what I said to President Hu and what I've said to every world leader that I've talked to is that words have to mean something. There have to be some consequences. “
Seeming to applaud his efforts at international diplomacy, the president said “if you consider where we were, say, a year ago, with respect to the prospect of sanctions, the fact that we've got Russia and China” along with France, the UK, and Germany – “having a serious discussion around a sanctions regime — following up on a serious sanctions regime that was passed when North Korea flouted its obligations towards the NPT” – the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty – “it's a sign of the degree to which international diplomacy is making it more possible for us to isolate those countries that are breaking their international obligations.”
The president underlined that Iran’s leaders can avoid sanctions. The international community has “put before them a very reasonable approach that would have allowed them to continue their civilian peaceful nuclear-energy needs, but would have allayed many of the concerns around their nuclear-weapons program. They have rejected that, so far.”