AP SOTU Fact Check Understates U.S.-Led International Steps Against Iran

Last night in his State of the Union address, President Obama outlined the successes of his policy against Iran. But an Associated Press “Fact Check” column of Obama’s speech said the president overstated his case of international diplomatic progress against Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. It failed, however, to look beyond the sanctions recently imposed on Iran to Obama’s long record of spearheading international action.

Speaking before the nation last night, Obama said:

And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests. Look at Iran. Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before. Its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions. And as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.

Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.

But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better. And if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

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The AP highlighted Obama’s line about how the world “now stands as one,” and wrote:

THE FACTS: The world is still divided over how to deal with Iran’s disputed nuclear program, and even over whether the nuclear program is a problem at all.

It is true that the U.S., Europe and other nations have agreed to apply the strictest economic sanctions yet on Iran later this year. But the global sanctions net has holes, because some of Iran’s large oil trading partners won’t go along. China, a major purchaser of Iran’s crude, isn’t part of the new sanctions and, together with Russia, stopped the United Nations from applying similarly tough penalties.

The start of AP’s fact-check is partially accurate. For example, Russia, which opposes further sanctions, denies that there is even “some military component” to Iran’s nuclear program. However, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency concluded in its latest report: “While some of the activities identified…have civilian as well as military applications, others are specific to nuclear weapons.”


But consider China: While China, as the AP notes, opposes more sanctions and trades with Iran, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said last week that China “adamantly opposes Iran developing and possessing nuclear weapons.”

Furthermore, focusing solely on the latest round of U.S. and European sanctions overlooks U.S.-led efforts in international and bi-lateral diplomacy. While Russia and China have indeed stopped the latest round of U.N. sanctions, in June 2010 the Obama administration spearheaded an effort to pass Security Council sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program that have proven effective in slowing its progress. Another Obama-led initiative created a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, whose eventual report condemned Iranian rights abuses. Those strides in human rights impacted the nuclear program as well, with the recent cooling of relations between Iran and its sometime nuclear diplomacy interlocutor Brazil.

While the AP’s assertion that the world does not stand perfectly in line against Iran’s nuclear program holds some water, it’s understatement of U.S.-led international pressure and actions against Iran ignores the robust progress that’s been made since Obama took office.