HONOLULU (AP) — President Barack Obama prodded the skeptical leaders of Russia and China for support in reining back Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but without winning public endorsement from either man.
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Neither Russian President Dmitry Medvedev nor Chinese President Hu Jintao publicly echoed Obama’s push for solidarity over renewed concerns on Iran as Obama met separately on Saturday with each leader on the sidelines of a Pacific Rim economic summit here. Presiding over the gathering in his home state of Hawaii, Obama also sought to position the United States as a Pacific power determined to get more American jobs by tapping the potential of the Asia-Pacific.
For Obama, the first full day of a nine-day trip far from Washington mixed high-stakes foreign affairs diplomacy with a focus on U.S. jobs, the top domestic concern of voters who will decide next year whether to re-elect him. The president was to continue his economic advocacy Sunday at a series of meetings with leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, a diverse group of 21 nations representing growing markets and ever-more-important alliances for the U.S.
Obama announced the broad outlines of an agreement to create a transpacific trade zone encompassing the United States and eight other nations before going into meetings with Hu and Medvedev where he raised a new report from the U.N. atomic agency. The report asserted in the strongest terms to date that Iran is conducting secret work to develop nuclear arms.
Russia and China remain a roadblock to the United States in its push to tighten international sanctions on Iran. Both are veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council and have shown no sign the new report will change their stand.
Alongside Medvedev, Obama said the two “reaffirmed our intention to work to shape a common response” on Iran.
Shortly after, Obama joined Hu, in a run of back-to-back diplomacy with the heads of two nations that have complicated and at times divisive relations with the United States. Obama said that he and the Chinese leader want to ensure that Iran abides by “international rules and norms.”
Obama’s comments were broad enough to portray a united front without yielding any clear indication of progress. Medvedev, for his part, was largely silent on Iran during his remarks, merely acknowledging that the subject was discussed. Hu did not mention Iran at all.
White House aides insisted later that Russia and China remain unified with the United States and other allies in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and that Obama, Hu and Medvedev had agreed to work on the next steps. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the new allegations about Iran’s programs demand an international response.
“I think the Russians and the Chinese understand that,” he said. “We’re going to be working with them to formulate that response.”
As the president held forth on the world stage, Republicans vying to compete against Obama for the presidency unleashed withering criticism in a debate in South Carolina. It was a rare moment in which foreign policy garnered attention in a campaign dominated by the flagging U.S. economy.
“If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon,” said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
Iran has insisted its nuclear work is in the peaceful pursuit of energy and research, not weaponry.
More broadly, Obama is seeking while in Hawaii to position the United States as a key player among economies that already account for 44 percent of world trade, a figure the administration believes will grow.
For businesses, Obama said, “this is where the action’s going to be.”
On the Pacific trade pact, Obama said details must still be worked out, but said the goal was to complete the deal by next year.
The eight countries joining the U.S. in the zone would be Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Obama also spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda about Japan’s interest in joining the trade bloc.
Obama will be in Honolulu through Tuesday, when he leaves for Australia before ending his trip in Indonesia.