During the 2008 presidential race, Barack Obama promised to "crack down on nuclear proliferation by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions."
In May 2010, 189 signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty met for a once-every-five-years review conference. Compared to the 2005 conference, which was widely considered a failure, the 2010 conference was generally thought to have produced positive results.
Despite numerous challenges going into the conference, the participating states "still found a way to constructively negotiate and find pragmatic approaches to defuse hot-button issues such as North Korea's withdrawal and nuclear testing, Iran's noncompliance, prospects for a Middle East (weapons of mass destruction) free zone, and further progress on disarmament, any one of which could have scuttled the proceedings,” wrote Deepti Choubey, then the deputy director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"For the first time,” Choubey added, "there are specific and measurable actions that states are asked to take in support of the three pillars of the NPT: nonproliferation, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. These actions were drafted in a way to serve as a scorecard for measuring progress and ensuring there would be accountability at future meetings. Transforming the lofty goals of the NPT debates into tangible action is real progress.”
Kingston Reif, director of nuclear non-proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, added that among the important steps taken at the conference were welcoming nuclear-weapons reductions by member states, praising new and improved International Atomic Energy Agency safeguard inspection protocols and support for the importance of international discussions on multilateral control of sensitive nuclear fuel facilities.
The final document -- which was unanimously adopted -- "should be considered an incremental success,” Choubey wrote, adding that "it is not a lowest-common-denominator document.”
Meanwhile, the Obama administration has also helped enact "strong international sanctions” against Iran.
As we have previously noted, Iran has faced U.S. sanctions since its 1979 Islamic revolution, but since 2006, the United Nations and other nations have repeatedly tightened sanctions in response to Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. An October 2012 Congressional Research Service says "many” consider the current sanctions to be "crippling." The previous month, CRS wrote that "many judge that Iran might soon decide it needs a nuclear compromise to produce an easing of sanctions.”
Critics of Obama say he could have gone further, as Congress has sometimes urged, but others counter that policy differences between Congress and the president are hardly unusual, since the administration has to engage in diplomacy with other nations in a way that Congress does not.
"Flexibility is the watchword" for any administration, Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations told PolitiFact earlier this year. "It's really hard to argue that this administration hasn't brought strong pressure to bear on Iran."
Changing the terms of an international accord such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is something that typically takes longer than one presidential term. That said, the Obama administration participated in a review conference that was generally praised as a reaffirmation and strengthening of the original treaty, and the administration has helped impose the most stringent sanctions to date on Iran. We rate this a Promise Kept.