National Security Adviser Says Obama ‘Engagement’ Policy Has Led to ‘Unprecedented’ International Consensus on Iran

By Christopher Neefus | January 25, 2010 | 6:44 PM EST

Gen. Jim Jones, national security adviser. (AP photo)

Washington ( – Gen. Jim Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, claimed Monday that the administration had seen “unprecedented” success in rallying the world against Iran through its strategy of engagement.
“Engagement, our strategy in Iran, has resulted and is resulting in an unprecedented level of international consensus and unity on Iran,” Jones told reporters Monday.
The four-star general made the comments at a liberal think-tank, the Center for American Progress (CAP), where he discussed the Obama administration’s strategy in Afghanistan and highlighted other national security measures taken in the past year.
CAP has a particularly close relationship with the White House. Its president, John Podesta, oversaw Obama’s transition to the Oval Office and was President Clinton’s chief of staff.
Jones explained that the administration’s strategy of engagement was not simply for the sake of shaking hands with leaders of potentially hostile regimes, but to strengthen America’s bargaining position. He said the administration would not “engage in other nations for the sake of engagement.”
“Engagement is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end of greater cooperation on common challenges, greater burden sharing, and greater security for the United States and its friends and allies,” Jones said. “The leadership of the United States and the president’s commitment to that leadership has yielded progress – we think tangible, meaningful results across the board.”
Jones listed “accomplishments” of engagement, which he said included pulling the economy back from the brink of “catastrophe” by agreeing on a global stimulus through the G20, and helping end the war in Iraq.
On Iran, Jones challenged critics who have said engagement has not gotten the United States anywhere.
“To those who claim that engagement on Iran has not yielded dividends, we should really look at the facts,” he told reporters. “Engagement, our strategy in Iran, has resulted and is resulting in an unprecedented level of international consensus and unity on Iran, making clear that Tehran must meet its responsibilities or face the consequences.”
Despite Jones’ optimism, however, Iran has yet to show any sign of reversing course on its nuclear program.
While the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has insisted its nuclear program is only for generating power peacefully, Iran appears to be inching closer to being able to create a nuclear weapon.
Iran reportedly rejected the most recent offer from the United States, which was proffered with the involvement of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That deal would have seen Iran shipping its uranium to France and Russia where it could be enriched into nuclear fuel to power its Tehran Research Reactor. The so-called “fuel swap” would ease fears abroad of Iran having enough raw material to create nuclear weapons.
Last week, the IAEA tried to downplay the bad news, saying the deal was still on the table and that they were working toward a resolution.
At the same time, the United States has seen pushback on its “international consensus” from China, which has rejected imposing new sanctions to target the top echelons of the Iranian governing regime.
China, which has a permanent veto on the United Nations Security Council and currently holds its monthly rotating presidency, has signaled it believes the issue requires “more time and patience,” and does not plan to act on any timetable imposed by President Obama. Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters at the U.N. on January 5, “This is not the right time or right moment for sanctions because the diplomatic efforts are still going on.”
While the other Security Council nations were reportedly considering circumventing the U.N., James Phillips of The Heritage Foundation, said that option has also recently imploded as well.
“I just don’t see any progress being made,” Phillips, who is Heritage’s senior fellow for Middle Eastern affairs, told “Just today, the foreign ministers of the EU (European Union) backed away from imposing sanctions and said that they should be imposed only by the Security Council or that it’s necessary for the Security Council to take the lead.”
Phillips said he did not see the “consensus” Jones had mentioned to reporters.
 “I don’t know what consensus that he’s referring to that we should be encouraged by because, the way I see it, it’s kind of diplomatic inertia,” he said.
Phillips said Chinese obstructionism at the U.N. was nothing new.
“China has been sending signals for many months now that it doesn’t want to impose any more sanctions, so I don’t see a developing consensus that favors more sanctions.
“If there is a consensus, it’s a consensus that – as long as Iran is at the negotiating table, then sanctions should be postponed indefinitely, and unfortunately, I think that would give Iran a means of just running out the clock.”
Phillips said he believes Iran has a strong motivation to do just that.
“I think Iran has shown that it doesn’t want to be engaged (in negotiations with the Western powers), and I think the Obama administration mistakenly assumed that Iran – the regime in Tehran – wants better relations with the West. I have argued and a lot of other people have argued that that’s not true.
“In fact, that regime, in order to stay in power, wants a tense and hostile relationship with the United States because that’s the cornerstone of its ideology, and it bases its legitimacy on opposition to the United States,” said Phillips. “I think that the administration’s policy was wrong from the beginning.”
Gen. Jones, meanwhile, said Obama had rehabilitated the United States’ image on the world stage in the last year.
“Overall, I think the challenge of restoring the reputation of the United States as a nation willing to commit to leadership, willing to commit to a new era of engagement based on mutual interests and mutual respect, probably is the defining feature—as I have stated, the defining feature of (this) foreign policy,” he added.