World

White House assures skeptics it can still stop Iranian nukes

A top adviser to President Obama said Monday that the White House believes it can push sanctions against Iran through the United Nations in the next few weeks, despite slow going in negotiations and little visible movement since the president himself made a similar forecast more than a month ago.

The U.S. is looking to “impose a real cost” on Iran with “a meaningful U.N. Security Council resolution in the coming weeks,” said Dennis Ross, Obama’s top National Security Council adviser on Iran.

“Iran must face real consequences for its continued defiance of the international community,” Ross said, in a speech to the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish advocacy group, at a dinner in Washington.

Ross’s mention of sanctions in weeks repeated what the president said over a month ago.

“I’m not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place,” Obama said March 30. “I’m interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks.”

The New York Times reported that there is no timeline in place to finish work on sanctions, as members of the U.N. Security Council haggle over the many details.

Earlier Monday, a former Obama administration official and former adviser to Ross, Ray Takeyh, said that the current sanctions being negotiated by the U.S. at the U.N. are “not likely to produce strategic concessions from Iran.”

Takeyh said sanctions won’t do much to alter Iran’s behavior, since financial penalties are limited in impact when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s definition of “economic justice” is that most Iranians be “equally poor.”

Takeyh repeated a point he made in a Foreign Affairs article earlier this year, arguing Iran will likely get a bomb and that in that scenario the U.S. would likely need to use force against Tehran to push back a newly aggressive nuclear power.

“Containment policy may actually entail the use of force,” Takeyh said at the ADL meeting.

“There are no good options” for how to resolve the situation, Takeyh said. “I don’t think this is going to end well.”

Questions for Ross from the ADL audience were equally skeptical. One woman said it was “naïve” not to think about Tehran acquiring nukes, adding that such a scenario is “not so much a matter of if … but when.”

Ross responded simply: “I’m not going to focus on failing to achieve our objective.”

“No one should doubt President Obama’s seriousness when he says that the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” Ross said.

Another Obama adviser, Dan Shapiro, sought to reassure the ADL conference earlier in the day that the White House remains committed to Israel’s security but also made clear that the president believes Israel must make an effort to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Ahmadinejad remained defiant in an appearance the United Nations in New York. He delivered a typically confrontational speech at the opening of a U.N. conference to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, railing against the nuclear arsenals in the U.S. and Israel.

The U.S. delegation walked out as Ahmadinejad spoke and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the remarks were evidence that Tehran is rejecting Obama’s offer to engage in one-on-one talks.

“The offer is still there,” Gibbs said. “They seem … unwilling to live up to their obligations.”

“That’s why we’ve got a dual-track approach going to ensure that if they fail to live up to those obligations, that we take those next steps,” he said.

In what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized as an effort to show that the U.S. is making a good faith effort to live up to the NPT requirements, the U.S. on Monday disclosed for the first time ever the size of its nuclear arsenal.

The U.S. currently has 5,113 active and inactive warheads, down from a 1967 high of 31,255, the Los Angeles Times reported.

E-mail Jon Ward and follow him on Twitter