G-8 issues September deadline for Iran

Obama warns Tehran to accept nuclear talks soon. Iran's crackdown on protesters may be hardening US policy.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    President Barack Obama speaks at a press conference at the end of the G8 Summit in L'Aquila, Italy, Friday.
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President Obama had more harsh words for Iran Friday in the wake of its contested election, warning the government in Tehran that the world is unlikely to wait beyond September for signs of cooperation on its nuclear program.

The president's comments came as street protests returned to Tehran on Thursday. And the apparently new, shorter deadline for the Iranian government to respond to the international community's offer of talks follows a flurry of speculation over Israel's plans for military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

At a press briefing wrapping up the G-8 summit in Italy, Mr. Obama said the G-8 leaders were moved to issue a statement by the Iranian government's "appalling" actions that followed the disputed June 12 presidential election.

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The Group of Eight wealthy countries condemned the crackdown on protesters contesting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection, and also called on the government to ease restrictions on news media.

But it's Obama's announcement of a September deadline that most clearly suggests a hardening of the US approach to Tehran.

On Friday, Obama insisted he has not given up on his preference for dialogue and negotiation, but he said the international community would not "just wait indefinitely" as Iran develops a nuclear weapon.

International leaders will review Iran's response at a September meeting of developed and developed countries in Pittsburgh, Obama added, and consider if further steps are required.

"[E]vents in Iran have given Obama the opportunity to mobilize the international community, and in particular the Europeans, to get with the sanctions that exist," says Lawrence Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington. "He's also telling the Iranians: 'OK guys, there are things you are doing that are going to make it easier for me to get even tougher sanctions from the international community.' "

Obama has previously said he wanted to see progress on dialogue with Tehran by year's end, but Mr. Korb says the Iranian government's crackdown on protesters has now "taken any talk of the end of the year off the table."

Iran's continuing progress in its nuclear program is also prompting Obama to shorten the deadline, say some nuclear proliferation experts.

"What this says is, that these guys [in the Obama administration] are scratching the calculations and finding they don't have as much time as they thought," says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington.

Just going by Tehran's declared nuclear materials stockpile, Mr. Sokolski says, "Even being very conservative, it comes down to the Iranians having everything they need to make a bomb roughly by sometime next year."

The Iranian government says its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy purposes.

Signaling an effort to keep the heat on Tehran until September, the US Treasury Department announced that Secretary Timothy Geithner will make a swing through the Middle East next week. Iran's nuclear program and its growing regional influence are expected to be on the agenda in every country he visits.

Mr. Geithner will focus on how the US should approach Iran diplomatically when he meets with Saudi Arabia officials on Tuesday and Wednesday, Treasury officials said. The Saudi government has previously expressed concerns about the destabilizing impact of Iran's nuclear progress in the region.

Geithner will also visit the United Arab Emirates, which serves as a trading lifeline to Iran but which has also negotiated a civilian nuclear energy development agreement with the US.

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