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How they see us: Joining Europe for talks with Iran
Last week the U.S. sent an envoy to attend the latest round of Geneva talks on the suspension of Iran's nuclear experiments. Was this a "tactical move" or a "strategic shift in position"?
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t’s official: The hawks no longer rule the Bush administration, said Philip Sherwell in the London Telegraph. For the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the U.S. last week actually sent an envoy to sit at the same table with an Iranian diplomat. William Burns, the No. 3 official in the State Department, attended the latest round of Geneva talks between the five countries of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, on the one side, and Iran, on the other. The U.S. had always insisted it would not negotiate until Iran suspended uranium enrichment—which still has not happened. The U.S. claims that it hasn’t backtracked because Burns was just there to observe, not talk, but the distinction is academic. In “a further unexpected overture,” the U.S. said it would consider opening an “interests section” in Tehran, the first step toward establishing diplomatic relations. The two initiatives are evidence that it is now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who sets the foreign-policy agenda, and not “the neoconservative champion,” Vice President Dick Cheney. Rice has persuaded Bush that an emphasis on “diplomacy, rather than confrontation,” will save his legacy.

It’s no accident that the Bush administration waited until now to make its move, said Bernd Pickert in Germany’s Die Tageszeitung. The Iranian leadership is divided over the nuclear question. The West, meanwhile, is more united now that the Europeans have come closer to the American way of thinking on the issue, promising ever-tougher sanctions if the Iranians don’t halt their nuclear experiments. “When someone is weak and you are strong, that’s the time to negotiate.” The U.S. concession, therefore, is “merely a tactical move, not a strategic shift in position. The U.S. goal remains regime change in Tehran.”

The inclusion of an American at the talks was a huge “success for European diplomacy,” said Pierre Rousselin in France’s Le Figaro. As long as the U.S. was boycotting the discussions, Iran could plausibly claim that the negotiations weren’t really serious. But now that the Bush administration has made such “an about-face,” Iran has the space to make concessions without losing face itself. The European-led negotiations now have a real chance of succeeding in reining in the Iranian nuclear program.

Not true, said Hoseyn Shariatmadari in Iran’s Keyhan. Why should Iran concede anything now? The contest between the U.S. and Iran has been “like a game of chicken,” with two cars hurtling toward each other on a single-lane road. The U.S. was the one to swerve. The proof is now in: “America is a toothless lion that can do nothing but roar.” And Iran has been “right all along to insist on keeping its lawful nuclear program.”

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