U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday said a new push toward international sanctions against Iran is moving along fairly quickly and should be completed in the next few weeks.
In an impromptu news conference, Obama provided his most extensive comments about Iran in weeks, saying that despite Tehran's denials it is clear to him that Iran is pursuing a path toward "nuclear weaponization."
He said the international community is looking at a significant regime of sanctions that will provide a "variety of ways" to apply pressure to Iran's government, without detailing them.
Obama said the United States is confident the world is "unified around Iran's misbehavior in this area."
Of two allies who have been reluctant to approve new UN sanctions in the past, Russia and China, Obama said he was pleased by how Russia has been "forward-leaning" lately but was uncertain about China.
"How China operates at the Security Council as we pursue sanctions is something we're going to have to see," he said.
Obama said it was unclear who actually speaks for the Iranian government, saying it was giving "mixed signals."
The Islamic Republic, which denies its program has military aims, defied the international community by announcing on Sunday that it would enrich uranium to 20-percent purity for a Tehran reactor making medical isotopes for cancer patients.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Fox News earlier Tuesday: "I think it's going to take some period of time - I would say weeks, not months - to see if we can't get another UN Security Council resolution," according to the transcript of his interview.
Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs Philip J. Crowley on Tuesday said that U.S. is ready to work with Iran, but "we need to see Iran to come to the table and address our concerns."
"We have remained extremely flexible - we want to find a way to address the legitimate needs of Iran,: Crowley said. "But in the absence of constructive engagement of Iran, we are now paying significant attention to the second track because Iran is unwilling to come to the table."
Russia official: Iran testing the world's patience
Iran's decision to enrich uranium to higher levels has raised new doubts about Tehran's nuclear program and is testing the patience of the global community, Russian officials said Tuesday.
The tough statements appeared to indicate that Russia is increasingly warming up to the U.S. push for a new set of international sanctions against Iran.
"Iran says it doesn't want to have nuclear weapons. But its actions, including its decision to enrich uranium to 20 percent, have raised doubts among other nations, and these doubts are quite well-founded," Nikolai Patrushev, the chief of Russia's Security Council, said in televised remarks.
World powers fear the Iranian nuclear program might be a cover for building atomic weapons. Iran says the program is peaceful and aims to generate power for its growing population.
The U.S. and France said the Iranian announcement that it would enrich uranium to 20 percent left no choice but to push harder for a fourth set of United Nations Security Council sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear defiance. Iran said Tuesday it had started enrichment under UN supervision.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also criticized the Iranian move, saying that it defies the UN Security Council resolutions and would deepen doubts of the sincerity of Iran's intentions to assuage international concerns about its nuclear program.
Patrushev urged Iran to cooperate more actively with the UN nuclear watchdog to assuage international concerns about its enrichment effort. He also warned there are limits to the world's patience regarding Iran's defiance.
"What matters is not whether or not sanctions will be imposed," Patrushev said. "What matters is to settle the process. Political and diplomatic methods are important in the settlement, but everything has its limit and there are limits to patience."
Patrushev also pointed out that Israel, in particular, has refused to rule out the use of force against Iran. "It's very important to avert a war," he said.
Russia has walked a fine line on Iran for years. It is one of the six powers leading efforts to ensure Iran does not develop an atomic bomb. But it also has tried to maintain friendly ties with the Islamic Republic, a regional power close to Russia's vulnerable southern flank.
Russia has been building Iran's first nuclear power plant, whose launch has been repeatedly delayed and is now scheduled for some unspecified time this year.
Netanyahu calls for 'immediate, crippling sanctions'
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for immediate and "crippling" sanctions against Iran on Tuesday, as the Islamic Republic began making higher-grade nuclear fuel in defiance of international censure.
"Iran is racing forward to produce nuclear weapons ... I believe that what is required right now is tough action by the international community," Netanyahu told European diplomats.
"This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions and these sanctions must be applied right now," he said in a short message to underscore Israel's concern over the latest developments.
Netanyahu's language implied Israel would not be content with so-called "targeted sanctions" which Western diplomats have predicted could be pursued against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and other assets of the Tehran leadership.
"In the last two days the brutal regime in Tehran has made more outrageous statements including the implicit call for the extermination of my country," Netanyahu told the EU ambassadors.
He did not repeat veiled threats Israel has made in the past to attack Iran's nuclear facilities in a pre-emptive strike.
A spokesman of the atomic agency, Ali Shirzadian, said Tuesday morning that "preparatory work" had started at 9:30 A.M. local time and that production would formally get under way at about 1 P.M.
"Today we started to make 20 percent enriched nuclear fuel ... in the presence of IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors," an unnamed official told Iran's Arabic-language state television, al-Alam.
Reacting to the announcement, the United States said on Tuesday it wanted the United Nations Security Council to move quickly to enforce sanctions on Iran, demanding approval of a resolution "within weeks, not months."
But China, which like the U.S. holds a Security Council veto, remains reluctant to support sanctions and on Tuesday called for more talks in the wake of calls by other world powers for possible sanctions on Iran over its nuclear developments.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu refused to comment on sanctions at a news conference, saying only: "I hope the relevant parties will step up efforts and push for progress in the dialogue and negotiations."
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