WASHINGTON - April 13, 2010 — -- Wrapping up a two-day nuclear security summit, President Obama said this evening that he will push hard for "strong sanctions" against Iran for its continued development of a nuclear program, adding that he wants them finished "on a timely basis."
"Sanctions aren't a magic wand," Obama said at a press conference in Washington. "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."
Obama declared the nuclear summit, an unprecedented gathering of world leaders that he called for in a speech in Prague last year, "enormously productive day." But he made it clear that progress was not going to happen overnight.
"So this has been a day of great progress, but as I said this morning, this can't be a fleeting moment. Securing nuclear materials must be a serious and sustained global effort," the president said. "We agreed to have our experts meet on a regular basis -- to measure progress, to ensure that we're meeting our commitments, and to plan our next steps."
Representatives from all 47 nations signed off on a pledge to secure and dispose of all vulnerable fissile materials, like highly enriched uranium, that could be used to make a nuclear weapon.
The agreement is not legally binding.
"Some countries are signing that today, some have to go back home and work in through their systems," a national security official told ABC News.
Obama praised the world leaders for making "concrete commitments" and taking "tangible steps" to ensure that loose nuclear materials do not end up in the hands of terrorists.
"This evening I can report that we have seized this opportunity," he said of his stated goal going into this summit. "And because of the steps we've taken, as individual nations and as an international community, the American people will be safer and the world will be more secure."
China Agrees to Iran Sanctions
While the issue of Iran sanctions was admittedly separate from the summit's agenda, White House officials said that Iran would be on the table during Obama's numerous bilateral meeting with foreign leaders, as the United States continues to work though the U.N. Security Council to insist that Iran meet its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
After months of reluctance, the Chinese indicated their agreement to the concept of sanctions following President Obama's meeting Monday with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
White House officials called it "a sign of international unity on Iran," and Obama touted the news that the Chinese have sent representatives to New York to begin the process of drafting a sanctions resolution with the other members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (known as the "P5-plus-1"). But he said he was not interested in a "long drawn out process for months."
"I want to see us move forward boldly and quickly, to send the kind of message that will allow Iran to make a different calculation," he said.
Obama acknowledged that China, like other nations, is concerned about the ramifications that sanctions may have on Iran as an oil-producing country.
"A lot of countries around the world have trade relationships with Iran," he said. "And we're mindful of that."
When asked then if he would call on Israel to declare its own nuclear program and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Obama declined to comment on Israel's program but said the United States has urged all countries to get on board.
"Whether we're talking about Israel or any other country, we think that becoming part of the NPT is important," he said.
Working Toward Sanctions For Iran
Jeff Bader, the National Security Staff senior director for Asian Affairs said that during their meeting on Monday Hu and Obama "agreed to instruct their delegations to work with the P5-plus-1 and U.N. Security Council representatives on a sanctions resolution that will make clear to Iran the costs of continuing to pursue a nuclear program.
The resolution will make clear to Iran the costs of pursuing a nuclear program that violates Iran's obligations and responsibilities."
On the sidelines of last night's nuclear summit dinner, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pulled aside her counterparts from the P5-plus-1 to discuss the sanctions. U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice also met last night met with her Chinese counterpart.
Bader said that the sanctions would be worked on in the coming "days and weeks," with the hope that they would be passed before the end of the month.
Highly Enriched Uranium: Ukraine & Canada's Announcements
On day one of the summit, the White House was quick to herald announcements from Ukraine and Canada on their stockpiles of highly enriched uranium.
After Obama's first ever meeting with Ukrainian President Yanukovich,administration officials touted the president's success in first getting Ukraine to agree to dispose of all its highly enriched uranium.
Ukraine intends to remove a substantial part of its stocks this year with the goal of disposing of everything by the next nuclear summit in South Korea in 2010 and will convert its civil nuclear research facilities to operate with low-enriched uranium fuel.
"This is something that the United States has tried to make happen for more than 10 years," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday, "The material is enough to construct several nuclear weapons. And this demonstrates Ukraine's continued leadership in nonproliferation and comes in an important region where we know a lot of highly enriched uranium exists."
The United States will provide some degree of both technical and financial assistance to help the securing process.
Late Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that his government had agreed to return to the United States highly enriched uranium from the nuclear reactor at the Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario.
The uranium will be converted into low enriched uranium, a form unusable for nuclear weapons, and will be transferred over an eight-year period, beginning this year.
"We welcome this important announcement from Prime Minister Harper, which demonstrates Canada's strong leadership on nuclear security, and its close partnership with the United States on key global issues," Gibbs said in a statement.