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July 24, 2008

Apparently it’s only a negotiation if you plan to listen when they talk

The recent news that the United States would be sending their number three official in the State Department, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns to take part in talks with Iran is a significant departure from previous policies. Last Saturday’s conference in Geneva with European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili was considered a golden opportunity for the two nations to directly discuss Iran’s nuclear program. The move, which has been applauded by many experts in the field (and attacked just as harshly by the likes of John Bolton) has also been described in the Washington Times as the “most significant American diplomatic contact with Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.”

The White House, however, which has received praise for this shift in policy, has tried hard before and after the conference to refute the claim that the Saturday negotiations were in fact negotiations. Dana Perino, Press Secretary for the White House, held a press conference during which she was pressed on how there was a difference between what William Burns planned on doing in Geneva and official negotiations.

Perino stood by White House claims that this was not negotiation by saying that: “our [the United States’] principle remains the same, and the strategy and the goal remain the same, that they must halt the enrichment of uranium in order for there to be negotiations… nothing has changed in that regard.” The United States has held on to the belief that no negotiations can take place until Iran halts it uranium enrichment.  Perino may be refusing to admit that the US’ stance is softening because of President Bush’s comments at the Knesset, in which he compared speaking to modern day terrorists and radicals to the European appeasement of Nazi Germany.

His speech, considered by most people to have been directed towards Senator Barrack Obama’s stance on talks with Iran without preconditions, seems to be in clear contradiction with the move to include Burns in the talks with Iran.

The White House seems to be attempting to appear supportive of President Bush’s comments while at the same time doing the exact opposite. This refusal to admit that negotiations occurred between the contentious nations has frustrated experts and become fodder for comedians; Jon Stewart attempted to understand this denial all the time assuring the administration that “we’d be happy if you were negotiating [with Iran],” but if the White House would rather think of it as “bombing the Iranians with conversation, to feel good,” Stewart said they could.

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