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Obama agenda: Weighing sanctions

"Amid growing international pressure in advance of highly anticipated talks this week, Iran displayed its defiance of Western threats against its nuclear program by announcing Sunday that it had test-fired at least two short-range missiles," the Washington Post says. "Senior Obama administration officials, meanwhile, said they had the international support necessary to impose crippling sanctions if Tehran does not stop construction on a new uranium-enrichment plant and allow immediate inspections."

The New York Times: "The Obama administration is scrambling to assemble a package of harsher economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program that could include a cutoff of investments to the country's oil-and-gas industry and restrictions on many more Iranian banks than those currently blacklisted. The administration also is seeking to build a broader coalition of partners for sanctions so that it may still be able to act against Iran even if China and Russia were to veto harsher measures proposed in the United Nations Security Council."

Indeed, the Times also notes that Russia could slow-walk any actual decision on Iran sanctions. "Russia is also reluctant to mass the might of the United Nations Security Council against a single country, especially at Washington's behest. That in part explains why Russia has historically sought to dilute sanctions, as it did in previous rounds against Iran."

The Wall Street Journal has a good analysis about why it's not easy for Israel to militarily take out Iran's nuclear plants.

"The administration had intended to confront the Iranians about the secret site later this year, but Tehran's sudden disclosure forced their hand," AP writes. "Now the administration hopes to use the new site as leverage to win a commitment from Iran to abandon its nuclear program or face severe new economic sanctions."

The AP: "Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is pushing back against liberal calls for withdrawal timetables from Afghanistan, saying it is a mistake to set a deadline to end US military action and a defeat would be disastrous for the United States… 'The notion of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States,' Gates said on CNN's 'State of the Union.' 'Taliban and Al Qaeda, as far as they're concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, Al Qaeda recruitment, operations, fund-raising, and so on. I think it would be a huge setback for the United States.'" 

But he also praised Obama's handling of Afghanistan. Gates said the "United States has faced difficulties in the Afghanistan conflict because the Bush administration did not have the same kind of 'comprehensive strategy' that President Barack Obama does for the nation… 'I will tell you, I think that the strategy the president put forward in late March, is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s,' he told CNN. 'And that strategy was more about [the] Soviet Union that it was about Afghanistan.'"

Meanwhile, the "United States and NATO countries fighting in Afghanistan have told President Hamid Karzai's government that they expect him to remain in office for another five-year term and will work with him on an expanded campaign to turn insurgent fighters against the Taliban and other militant groups," the Washington Post writes.