Obama seeks Russia, China common ground on Iran

HONOLULU (AP) ? Engaging in high-level diplomacy with skeptical partners, President Barack Obama sought support from China and Russia on Saturday to confront Iran in the face of new allegations that it has been secretly trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Obama, after meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, said the two nations share a goal to “move Iran to follow its international obligations when it comes to its nuclear program.” Moments later, seated with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Obama said the U.S. and China want to ensure that Iran abides by “international rules and norms.”

Still the statements were broad declarations that did not address the United States’ push for more sanctions against Iran, a step Russia and China oppose.

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.

The two meetings presented the first opportunity for the three leaders to discuss Friday’s report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which raised new questions about Iran’s nuclear program. The watchdog agency provided evidence Tehran has conducted research, testing and procurement which could help it develop nuclear weapons. Tehran has rejected the material as a fabrication by the United States and its allies, maintaining its nuclear program is purely for energy and research

Medvedev thanked Obama for his support in Russia’s expected entrance into the World Trade Organization, asserting that Russia has received more help from this administration than all previous ones.

Russia is expected to join the WTO next year, a step that would require Congress to approve permanent normal trade relations.

While trade was the central topic of the APEC meeting, Saturday was marked by diplomacy, with Obama looking to contain deepening worries over Iran.

For the U.S., the international report offered significant support for some long-held suspicions and lent international credence to claims that Tehran isn’t solely interested in developing atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

U.S. officials have said the IAEA report is unlikely to persuade reluctant powers such as China and Russia to support tougher sanctions on the Iranian government. But Obama’s talks with Hu and Medvedev on that issue and others, including the North Korea nuclear threat, and China’s currency, which the U.S. believes China manipulates to the detriment of U.S. interests, were sure to be closely watched.

Meanwhile, placing high hopes on the economic power of Pacific Rim nations, Obama on Saturday also declared the Asia-Pacific region the heart of explosive growth for years to come. For businesses, he said, “this is where the action’s going to be.”

“There is no region in the world that we consider more vital than the Asia-Pacific region,” he told chief executives gathered for a regional economic summit.

Underscoring the region’s importance to the U.S., Obama on Saturday, as expected, announced the broad outlines of an agreement to create a transpacific trade zone encompassing the United States and eight other nations. He said details must still be worked out, but said the goal was to complete the deal by next year. ‘I’m confident we can get this done,” he said.

On the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, Obama also met with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Obama postponed a three-way working dinner Sunday with Mexico President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper after Calderon had to skip the APEC summit due to the death of his secretary of Interior, Francisco Blake Mora, in a helicopter crash Friday.

Obama is the host of the APEC gathering, a non-binding forum that draws 21 nations from across a vast Asia-Pacific region. Obama chose to host the event in his home state of Hawaii to illustrate his ties and economic commitment to the Pacific region, although security threats may well dominate his private meetings.

“The United States is a Pacific power and we’re here to stay,” Obama said.

He called the transpacific trade zone agreement a model for the Asia-Pacific region and for other trade pacts. Seated with the leaders of the eight other nations, Obama said the trade zone would increase U.S. exports and help create jobs, a top priority.

He said the U.S. is committed to shaping the future security and prosperity of what he called the “fastest growing region in the world.”

The eight countries joining the U.S. in the zone would be Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. A central topic for Obama and Noda will be Japan’s interest in joining the trade bloc.

In a sign of potential tension with China, Mike Froman, a deputy national security adviser who focuses on international economic matters, shrugged off complaints from China that it had not been invited to join the trade bloc. He told reporters that China had not expressed interest in joining and said the trade group “is not something that one gets invited to. It’s something that one aspires to.”

That pact and its potential payoff for U.S. jobs and business will allow Obama to cast his far-flung travels as crucial to American voters with an election year approaching and concerns of domestic voters centered on the dragging economy.

Addressing the European debt crisis, Obama said he welcomed the new governments being formed in Greece and Italy, saying they should help calm world financial markets. He said leaders in both countries are demonstrating a commitment to “structural reform” that should give investors confidence. Obama said all of Europe should back the 17 eurozone members in their efforts to resolve their debt crisis ? and warned until that’s resolved, they’ll will have a “dampening effect” on the global economy.

Ahead of Obama’s arrival on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at the Pacific Rim summit that Iran has a history of deception over its nuclear intentions and must respond to the International Atomic Energy Agency report “in the coming days.” Iran dismisses the allegation about its nuclear program and says its activities are meant to be used only for energy or research.

Obama will be in Honolulu through Tuesday, when he leaves for Australia before ending his trip in Indonesia, the country where he spent several years as a boy. He will attend a security summit of Asian nations.


Associated Press Writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.