By Julie Pace Associated Press
CARTAGENA, Colombia — Exposing a rift with Israel, President Barack Obama on Sunday insisted that the U.S. had not “given anything away” in new talks with Iran as he defended his continued push for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Obama said he refused to let the talks turn into a “stalling process,” but believed there was still a window for diplomacy. Earlier Sunday, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the U.S. and world powers gave Tehran a “freebie” by agreeing to hold more talks next month.
“So far at least we haven’t given away anything, other than the opportunity for us to negotiate and see if Iran comes to the table in good faith,” Obama said during a news conference Sunday in Colombia, as he closed a diplomatic mission to Latin America. But Obama warned, “the clock’s ticking.”
Winding down his three day trip in the port city of Cartagena, Obama also sought to offer hope for fresh start with Cuba, saying the U.S. would welcome the communist-run island’s transition to democracy. There could be an opportunity for such a shift to take place in the coming years, Obama said.
Standing alongside Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Obama also proclaimed a free trade agreement between their countries as a “win-win.” Obama announced that the trade pact can be fully enforced next month, now that Colombia has enacted a series of protections for workers and labor unions.
The deal is an expected but important victory for the U.S. business community, which contends the pact will be an economic boon for America. U.S. unions have opposed the trade deal, saying Colombia still has an abysmal record of violence against labor leaders.
Under the terms of the trade pact, more than 80 percent of industrial and manufactured products exported from the U.S. and Colombia will immediately become duty free, making it cheaper for American businesses to sell their goods to the South American country.
As Obama was meeting with Latin American leaders in Colombia, negotiators from the U.S. and five other world powers were in Turkey for a fresh round of nuclear talks with Iran.
While previous talks have done little to dissuade Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program, diplomats called the latest negotiations constructive and useful. Both sides agreed to hold more talks in Baghdad at the end of May.