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Obama Speaks, Again, on Iran’s Nuclear Concealment

This morning the president emphasized the years of concealment of the as-yet-unfinished nuclear enrichment facility at Qom as the most serious problem posed by the Iranian nuclear file. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad parried that he wasn’t in any specific violation of Iran’s international obligations. A day’s worth of cable chatter has already portrayed sanctions — which last week were the most-extreme pole of the debate — as a weak option, inexplicably. Here’s another press statement in Pittsburgh from President Obama, which I’ll liveblog.

And here we go. A bunch of opening remarks praising Pittsburgh (a rad city, it’s true), and on the global economy, as would be expected from, you know, the G-20 Summit. Now: time to seek “security of a world” without “nuclear weapons” and the world is united, including, he says, Russia and Japan. Now it’s question time.

“It’s important to see what happened today building on what happened in New York,” he said, referring to “an unprecedented show of unity” on the world stage about Iran. “The U.S., the U.K. and France, who initiated the intelligence that brought this to light,” plus Russia and China calling for an IAEA “rapid response” is “not typical.” Iran is “on notice” next week in Geneva. “They are going to have to come clean and they are going to have to make a choice”: either “giving up the acquisition of nuclear weapons” or “continu[ing] down a path which is going to lead to confrontation… The international community has spoken.” Won’t speculate on “the course of action we will take. We will give October 1 a chance.” But Obama, referencing President Medvedev’s statement in New York, wants to send the message that he has a firm coalition alongside him.

“I have always said we do not rule out any options when it comes to U.S. security interests, but I will also emphasize that my preferred course of action is to respond to this in a diplomatic fashion.”

Ah, Afghanistan! Will he increase troops? Obama restates the rationale for remaining in Afghanistan, “my overriding goal, is to dismantle the al-Qaeda network, to destroy their capacity to inflict harm” on us and others worldwide, “and that is our overriding focus. Stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan are critical to that mission.” ISAF coalition is strong, “but there’s also a recognition after that many years of drift, it’s important to examine our strategy” to ensure it will succeed. Succeed in terms of getting rid of al-Qaeda safe havens.

Fraud! “Allegations of fraud in the recent election are of concern to us… What is more important is there a sense of legitimacy in Afghanistan among Afghans… If there is not, that makes our task more difficult.” Reminds that he has said all year that he would reassess strategy post-Afghan election, which is the same thing Gen. Petraeus said on Wednesday. “I put in a new commander, Gen. McChrystal, and asked him to give me an unvarnished assessment, and he has done that as well… Our military strategy is only part of a broader project” of civilian-military approaches.

Public opinion? “I understand the public’s weariness of this year, given that it comes on top of weariness of war in Iraq.” Extraordinary military sacrifice, both ours and among ISAF coalition partners. “I would expect the public would ask some very tough questions. That’s exactly what I’m doing… We’re not going to arrive at any perfect answers… But my solemn obligation is to get the best answers possible,” especially ahead of ordering troops to war.

Protests at the G-20 are “directed generically at capitalism” and agrees to disagree. Has a condescending tone toward the protesters and defends the G-20′s regulatory commitments.

Another Iran question. Why meet with the Iranians at all? And whatever happened to that 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that Iran had abandoned nuclear weapons ambitions? Obama says the current intelligence was the “work product of three intelligence agencies not just one,” which “checked over this work in a painstaking fashion, precisely because we didn’t want any ambiguity… and the response you saw today indicates that the intelligence was solid.” Recommits to the two-track approach, whereby he negotiates with Iran while keeping more punitive approaches open. That will “strengthen world unity and our collective efforts to hold Iran accountable, and I think you’re starting to see the results of that unfold this week.” The IAEA is strengthened by strengthening the global nonproliferation regime, to the detriment of “those countries that don’t follow those rules,” and “when we find diplomacy doesn’t work, we will be in a much stronger position to apply sanctions that have bite.” Not that he wants that! It depends on Iranian actions.

So what kinds of sanctions have bite? And why did he announce this now? “This isn’t a football game,” Obama replies. “I’m not interested in victory. I’m interested in resolving the problem.” There will be a “variety of options” explored. Not going to get into details about sanctions. But if the international community is united, “then Iran’s going to have to pay attention.” Why now? To “make sure the intelligence is right.” All three agencies, he clarifies, are the intelligence apparatuses of the U.S., U.K., and France. And we’re out.

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