11/14/2011

Obama Dismisses Criticism of Approach to Iran

WALL STREET JOURNAL ECONOMY
By LAURA MECKLER


KAPOLEI, Hawaii—President Barack Obama said he would take no options off the table in confronting Iran, and defended his Iran record in the face of Republican attack, saying the sanctions imposed already have had "enormous bite and enormous scope."
He held out hope that Russia and China would help pressure Iran on its nuclear program and said these leaders agreed on the problem. But he said further consultations were necessary to determine next steps.
Mr. Obama spoke in a wide-ranging news conference held at the completion of an Asia-Pacific economic forum, held in his home state of Hawaii late Sunday. The setting for the question-and-answer session was picture perfect, with the sun setting over the blue ocean as the president fielded questions on a wide range of domestic and international issues.
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President Barack Obama held a news conference at the conclusion of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Kapolei, Hawaii, on Sunday.
He dismissed Republican criticism of his Iran record, saying there are no easy answers to persuading Iran to abandon its apparent nuclear ambitions. But he said his administration had made progress in uniting the world against the regime.
The president said he wouldn't respond to criticism from various GOP candidates until there is a nominee selected to challenge him next year. But he pushed back hard against Republican support for waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, voiced in a Republican debate this weekend.
"They're wrong," he said flatly. "It's contrary to America's traditions. It's contrary to our ideals. It's not who we are."
He said that anybody who understands the practice of waterboarding understands that it is torture. "That's not something we do, period."
Mr. Obama also made the case for his weeklong trip to the Asia-Pacific region, saying he is on a mission to increase U.S. exports to the fast-growing region. He suggested that congressional budget negotiators consider that their task is a lot easier than the austerity measures other nations are facing.
The news conference offered the president his first opportunity to comment on Iran since the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last week new evidence that Iran's nuclear program includes secret efforts to try and build a bomb.


Mr. Obama defended his record on Iran, saying U.S. leadership led to the strongest sanctions ever imposed on Iran. "When I came into office the world was divided and Iran was unified around its nuclear program. We now we have a situation where the world is united and Iran is isolated," he said.
Over the weekend, the president met with the Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russia Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and pressed them to add further pressure on Iran. Both countries hold a veto at the United Nations Security Council, meaning harsher sanctions aren't possible without their backing. But neither man voiced support for additional measures. Asked if he had persuaded them that further action was needed, Mr. Obama said he planned to continue consultations.
At a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said economic sanctions against Iran would be ineffective. "Simply put, we believe pressuring, including blindly using economic sanctions, does not at all achieve the desired effect," said Mr. Liu. "From a long-term approach, we still want to resolve this problem through dialogue."
At the GOP debate, several candidates had harsh criticism of Mr. Obama on Iran, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who said: "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." He said he would go to war if needed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb.
Mr. Obama did not explicitly address the possibility of military action but said, "We are not taking any options off the table."


Asked about the GOP critique, he offered barbed commentary at any effort to simplify the matter. "Now, is this an easy issue? No. Anybody who claims it is is either politicking or doesn't know what they're talking about," he said.
On other topics, the president made his case for "balanced" deficit reduction that includes both higher taxes and spending cuts and said he holds out hope a congressional "super committee" will agree to such a plan.
"The math won't change. There's no magic formula. There are no magic beans that you can toss on the ground and suddenly a bunch of money grows on trees," he said. "We got to just go ahead and do the responsible thing."
He added that the steps the U.S. must take are much less severe than those other countries are facing. "This doesn't require radical changes to America or its way of life," he said. "If other countries can do it, we can do it."
Mr. Obama declined to comment on a conversation picked up on a live microphone in which French President Nicolas Sarkozy described Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a "liar." Mr. Obama replied, "You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day."
Mr. Obama said that the "primary conversation" he had with Mr. Sarkozy involved his "significant disappointment" that France had voted in favor of the Palestinians joining UNESCO, a United Nations agency focused on education and culture.

—Brian Spegele in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Laura Meckler at laura.meckler@wsj.com