Obama wants Iran sanctions within ‘weeks’


Washington : US President Barack Obama declared that he wants to see the UN Security Council adopt sanctions against Iran within “weeks” over the Islamic republic’s refusal to resolve the dispute over its nuclear activities.

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“I’m not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place. I’m interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks,” Obama said Tuesday at a press conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Iran was at the top of the agenda during Sarkozy’s first visit to the White House since Obama took office, and the French leader was unwavering in his support for additional sanctions.

“We will make all the necessary efforts to ensure that Europe as a whole engages in the sanctions regime,” Sarkozy said through a translator.

Obama accused Iran of rejecting his overtures to resolve the dispute diplomatically. He said the door remains open for negotiations, but his administration will move forward on persuading the Security Council to enact sanctions.

The US, France and other allies suspect Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran insists its work is solely for civilian energy.

Obama and Sarkozy also discussed the conflict in Afghanistan, but the US president did not request additional French troops, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. The Afghan conflict is unpopular in France, which has limited its troop deployment to about 3,700.

Obama is boosting the US presence there by 30,000 troops this year.

The two leaders discussed the Middle East peace process, climate change, the global economic recovery, trade and financial regulation.

While the US, Britain and France have backed sanctions against Iran, the other two permanent members of the Security Council – China and Russia – have been reluctant to get behind stronger measures.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has been more open to the idea, but Beijing, which has economic ties with Iran, has continued to resist. Obama attributed China’s position to an unwillingness to place its immediate commercial interests ahead of long-term stability in the Middle East.

The US will continue the diplomatic effort to persuade China to join the cause, Obama said.

The two leaders discussed the competition for the lucrative contract to build to next generation of US Air Force refuellers, with Obama pledging that the awarding of the contract will be fair toward European manufacturer EADS, a potential bidder against US rival Boeing.

Obama said he has received assurances from Defence Secretary Robert Gates that there will be no favoritism for the US bidder.

“The rebidding process is going to be completely transparent, completely open, and a fair competition,” Obama said, while saying he will not “meddle” in the decision.

Sarkozy said he raised the issue with Obama during the meeting and was satisfied the process will be fair, and it would encourage EADS to submit a bid for the $35-billion contract to build the first 179 planes.

The Pentagon plans to award a contract to replace the ageing fleet of KC-135s, which has been in disarray for years. EADS and its US partner, Northrop Grumman, won the contract, but Boeing successfully protested the outcome, prompting the Pentagon to revoke the decision and restart the competition.

Northrop pulled out of the process earlier this month, accusing the Pentagon of favoring Boeing. EADS has expressed an interest in bidding on its own and has asked the Pentagon to postpone a May 10 deadline for submitting proposals.

Obama and Sarkozy along with their wives planned to have a private dinner at the White House Tuesday evening. Before the afternoon meeting, the two couples had lunch at a famous Washington diner, Ben’s Chili Bowl, a spot frequented by Obama.

“When I walked in, I saw a huge photograph of President Obama, and I’m afraid that, when you go back to that restaurant, you may see a smaller photograph of the French president,” Sarkozy said.