Washington's Iran Pivot: How Big a Shift?

| Wed Jul. 16, 2008 7:45 PM EDT

Even as some Washington observers were still marveling at the Bush administration's decision to send a diplomatic envoy to international nuclear talks with Iran to be held in Geneva this weekend, some analysts and close administration associates cautioned that the Bush administration really had not changed its underlying demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment before agreeing to sustained negotiations, and that the new diplomatic approach could be stillborn.

"If [Tehran agreeing to] zero enrichment is the expressed [US] objective, then this could be dead on arrival," said Trita Parsi, president of the pro-engagement National Iranian American Council. "If [the US] is more flexible, and will consider something along [former US diplomat Thomas] Pickering's plan," for an internationally supervised nuclear enrichment facility in Tehran, then the talks might have some momentum, he said.

"Nothing has changed," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Wednesday. "If they don't accept this offer, one, there will not be negotiations and two, there will be additional sanctions."

"The substantive position remains unchanged -- substantive negotiations on the issues await Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment," said Philip Zelikow, former advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. US Iran envoy William J. "Burns will personally reinforce that message and join the Europeans in hearing the response.

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