Seoul: President Barack Obama said Thursday the United States has begun talking with allies about fresh punishment against Iran for defying efforts to halt its nuclear weapons pursuits.
Obama`s tough talk came as Iran indicated it would not ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia for processing, the centrepiece of deal aimed at a peaceful resolution to Iran`s contested nuclear program.
"They have been unable to get to `yes`, and so as a consequence, we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences," Obama said in a brief news conference with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
Obama said a new package of punitive steps will likely be developed "over the next several weeks." He did not get more specific about the nature of any new sanctions, which would require commitments of international support that are hardly clear yet.
Obama advanced the prospect of sanctions but held out the option of diplomacy in case of Iran.
He said Iran must get a "clear message" and described a "package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran.
"I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door," Obama said, although US hopes for agreement with Iran were dimming.
A senior administration official later said Obama was purposely vague on Iran to leave a tiny door open for Tehran and to not undermine the search for international consensus that remains in an embryonic phase. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the President`s thinking.
On North Korea
Standing side by side, Obama and Lee signalled impatience over another nuclear threat, North Korea. They both declared fresh, united steps in getting that nation to give up its own nuclear weapons.
Lee and Obama rallied behind the South Korean`s idea for a one-time "grand bargain" with North Korea of aid and concessions in exchange for de-nuclearisation, rather than the stalled step-by-step process. And Obama said his envoy would travel to North Korea early next month for the first bilateral talks with the communist government since he took office.
North Korea is an area where there is little daylight between Obama and Lee. They are united in their impatience with North Korea`s habit of making overtures, getting rewards and then backtracking to raise tensions again.
"President Lee and I are in full agreement on our common approach going forward," Obama declared.
The US has been a partner with South Korea, Russia, China and Japan in trying to end the impasse over North Korea`s nuclear weapons. Obama said he remained committed to that process even as he launched direct US engagement with North Korea.
Here, too, the US President tried to find a balance and rejected North Korean belligerence. North Korea conducted a nuclear test and test-fired a series of missiles earlier this year.
Obama said North Korea`s opportunity for aid and respect "will not come with threats”.
S Korea-US FTA
The South Korea stop was the final dash of diplomacy for Obama on a weeklong Asia trip, and although he and Lee trumpeted the strength of their nations` alliance, a stalled trade deal continues to vex them.
The ambitious South Korean-US pact has bogged down over US lawmakers` worries it could hurt the struggling American auto industry.
Differences on the trade matter between Obama and Lee, though muted, were on display.
Obama offered public assurances that he was committed to getting the deal and that teams from both countries were working on the troubling issues. He gave some ground, saying Congress must recognise that US doesn`t have the same imbalances as with other Asian nations, and they shouldn`t be lumped together.
Lee prodded, too, saying there are misperceptions in the US that such a deal would only benefit South Korea and hurt American consumers.
The US President received an effusively warm welcome in South Korea, reflecting a relationship on the upswing. He and Lee showed a genuine rapport, even hugging at the close of their news conference, an unusual public finish to an appearance of world leaders.
Earlier, Obama had been treated to friendly roadside crowds and an elaborate ceremonial welcome.
After lunch with Lee, Obama held a boisterous rally at Osan Air Base outside Seoul with some of the 28,500 US troops who are stationed in South Korea. It was the third time Obama has addressed US troops with his decision still pending on how many more Americans to send into the Afghanistan war.
"I want to assure you, every American appreciates what you do," Obama told the troops.
The US fought for South Korea during the three-year Korean War, and since then has kept tens of thousands of troops in the country to monitor the ceasefire signed with North Korea in 1953.
Obama departed shortly after on his return flight to Washington, with a refuelling stop in Alaska.
Obama`s trip included stops in Japan and Singapore and a longer, ceremony-filled visit to China.