Obama and Putin at G8 summit 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque )
ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland - US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed "cautious" optimism on Monday that the election of a moderate cleric in Iran's presidential poll would open up dialogue with Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.
In a private meeting following the press conference, however, the presidents said they would sign an agreement on securing and destroying nuclear material to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, replacing a 1992 deal that expired on Monday.
Iranians voted Friday to elect moderate cleric Hassan Rohani
to be their next president.
Washington and its Western allies accuse Tehran of pursuing nuclear weapons and have imposed sanctions on Iran that have damaged its economy and triggered a rise in inflation and unemployment. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at generating power.
"In Iran, we both ... expressed cautious optimism that with a new election there, we may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran's nuclear program," Obama told reporters during a meeting with Putin at the Group of Eight summit in Northern Ireland.
The comments were his first in public about the Iranian election.
"I hope that after the elections in Iran there will be new opportunities to solve the Iranian nuclear problem
. And we'll be trying to do that bilaterally and in the international negotiations process," Putin said, according to translated remarks.
Their agreement on Iran contrasted with tension over the civil war in Syria, about which both men acknowledged having differing views.
Obama and Putin met privately at the G8 summit to talk about pressing security issues and agreed to work together to protect, control and account for nuclear weapons.
"I think it is an example of the kind of constructive, cooperative relationship that moves us out of a Cold War mindset," Obama said after meeting with Putin.
Ben Rhodes, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Russia had been reluctant to extend the agreement, which was signed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and was known as the Nunn-Lugar agreement after former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn and former Republican Senator Richard Lugar.
Rhodes said the Russians' concerns were "well founded in some respects," noting the Nunn-Lugar agreement had taken a "very aggressive and intrusive" approach to securing nuclear material in Russia.
On Monday, Nunn applauded the new deal, although he noted that some parts of the old one focused on chemical and biological weapons would not continue.
"We must find ways beyond this agreement to work together on these critical issues," he said. "I believe that we will."