National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said Tuesday that Iran has been weakened under the Obama administration, rebutting Republicans and other critics who have called the White House policy on Iran ineffective.
Donilon's remarks at the Brookings Institution came just hours before a scheduled foreign policy debate by GOP presidential candidates, several of whom have called for a tougher line against Iran. The White House said that the timing was coincidental.
Donilon told experts at the Brookings Institution that when President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, Iran seemed to many in the region to be "ascendant," its regime faced no significant challenge at home and the international community was divided over how to deal with Tehran's nuclear program.
He said that after Iran rejected U.S. overtures for dialogue, the administration ramped up sanctions, sought to isolate Tehran diplomatically, thwarted Iran's efforts to "meddle" in its neighbors affairs and strengthened military cooperation with Persian Gulf states. "We have steadily increased the pressure on the Iranian regime and raised the cost of their intransigence," he said.
Donilon said the administration's international sanctions, internal divisions and the revolts of the Arab Spring have reduced Iran's influence in the Middle East and beyond.
Michael Singh, the director for Iran for the Bush administration's National Security Council, said the only real measure of progress is whether the U.S. is any closer to forcing Iran to abandon its prohibited nuclear programs.
"The fact is, we're not," Singh said. He said that so far no U.S. administration "has really come up with a formula to stop Iran in its tracks."
When Donilon was asked if the White House strategy is succeeding, he said that with persistence and international support, "over time the goal would be to raise the price and force the choice" between Tehran's nuclear ambitions and an important role in the international community.
Donilon's comments came two weeks after the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog found that Iran had engaged in nuclear weapons research and one day after the U.S. expanded sanctions to include Iran's petrochemical industry and central bank.