From the New York Times:
After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him — by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers — that he no longer had a choice.
During the past month, according to European officials and some current and former members of the Bush administration, it became obvious to Mr. Bush that he could not hope to hold together a fractious coalition of nations to enforce sanctions — or consider military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites — unless he first showed a willingness to engage Iran’s leadership directly over its nuclear program and exhaust every nonmilitary option.
Few of his aides expect that Iran’s leaders will meet Mr. Bush’s main condition: that Iran first re-suspend all of its nuclear activities, including shutting down every centrifuge that could add to its small stockpile of enriched uranium. Administration officials characterized their offer as a test of whether the Iranians want engagement with the West more than they want the option to build a nuclear bomb some day.
And while the Europeans and the Japanese said they were elated by Mr. Bush’s turnaround, some participants in the drawn-out nuclear drama questioned whether this was an offer intended to fail, devised to show the extent of Iran’s intransigence.
It also comes down to the fact that this administration has pretty much destroyed any trust our allies had in us and they weren’t about to take us at our word about anything. So what else is there for us to do but try diplomacy?
Of course we had to throw up a qualifier that was designed to be a deal-breaker with Iran: give up your nuclear enrichment plans so we can talk about you giving up your nuclear enrichment plans. Whether or not this was the plan from the outset, knowing that Iran would, for the sake of their pride, refuse to accept the terms and thus give the administration the excuse to say, “See, we made a reasonable offer and they turned us down; we have no choice but to bomb the shit out of them” remains to be seen, but you can be sure that there are some neocons who are thinking it is totally uncool to have talk to the Iranians.
Seeing the administration being backed into the corner and made to try diplomacy versus sabre-rattling tells you a lot about how far we’ve gone in poisoning our own influence on our friends. In October 1962 as the Cuban missile crisis was developing, President Kennedy sent an envoy to brief French president Charles de Gaulle on the plans for US military blockade of Cuba. The envoy told the notably prickly French leader of what our intelligence had found and offered to send photographic evidence to back up the claim. President de Gaulle shook his head and said, “If the United States believes it, that’s good enough for me.”
Those were the days.