Thursday, March 01, 2007

Are We Are Or Are We Not Talking to Iran and Syria? Subtitle: Going To The Tony Snow School Of Subterfuge and Obfuscation

Just the other day or so, the MSM picked up on a story line suggesting that the US was ready to actually sit down with Iran and Syria and hash things out. Some peace mongers may have jumped for joy prematurely.

Have a look at the following exchange and tell me what you think the US is really going to be doing in relation to a diplomatic solution to the Iran and Syria concerns.

I can't figure out what we are doing, have done or will do, can you?

Q I don't understand what the problem is, why you're going so far out of your way to say, what we're doing now shouldn't be interpreted as reaching out diplomatically to Iran and Syria.

MR. SNOW: Because we don't want it to be seen as a --

Q Why?

MR. SNOW: Because this is an Iraqi initiative, and the one thing -- you do not -- you know, Jim, one of the things they want is diplomatic recognition. They need to deliver. They need to deliver. You do not strengthen your hand by showing "flexibility" in the absence of activity on the part of those parties, especially when you have taken a public negotiating position on it.

It is -- what is going on is of a piece with what has been going on for years. You and I had a conversation about this and you, to your credit, had a readout of a number of these occasions in the past where there had been the presence of Iranians and U.S. negotiators at multilateral forums. This is no different in principle than those.

On the other hand, what you're defining as flexibility is -- I think what you're saying is, if the U.S. gives up on the precondition that has been agreed upon in an international forum -- then, yes, absolutely --

Q That's not what I'm saying.

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm telling you what the real effect is. Because if you're saying that you want to throw away the conditions that were laid down by the P5-plus-one in dealing with the Iranians, and also the conditions that were negotiated with members of the Security Council in putting together a Chapter 7 resolution against Iran --

Q He didn't say that.

MR. SNOW: Yes, he did, because that would be the practical effect of it. The practical effect --

Q I'm not smart enough to come up with all that, Tony.

MR. SNOW: Well, then I'm trying to school you. I'm just trying to school you because -- see, what you're saying, Jim, what you're saying, "Why can't you be flexible?" -- because to meet your test of flexibility --

Q No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying, why are you so invested in being -- in talking about --

MR. SNOW: -- in principle?

Q No. No. Let me finish the question. Why are you so dug in on talking tough while you're going to do something in the next month or two that you have clearly stayed away from embracing up to this point?

MR. SNOW: Wait a minute. This is where you've got it completely -- what do you mean we've stayed away? I have just read for you a whole list of occasions on which the United States --

Q The Secretary of State is going to sit down --

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q -- and I know that some of those --

MR. SNOW: And she sat down --

Q -- and didn't even shake a hand or acknowledge in some of those situations.

MR. SNOW: She was in the meetings with them in September. Colin Powell was with them in Sharm el-Sheikh and through the Bonn process. So you --

Q Apparently, they didn't talk to each other and didn't shake hands hello. There was no -- this sounds like -- the tenor of what's about to happen sounds entirely different. And I'm just wondering --

MR. SNOW: I don't think it is. The Iraqis are putting together a meeting and it's going to be a businesslike meeting. If you're expecting suddenly new chummy relations, you've created a scenario that is not justified by the facts on the ground or the precedence.

Q One more follow on this. Could it be that you're concerned -- if you are seen as embarking on a new policy, is the concern that the old policy was wrong?

MR. SNOW: No, the concern is you guys are getting it wrong and I don't know how to get you to get it through your heads that it's not new. I mean, it's not new. What's going on here is something that has a long-seated precedence. There are multilateral forums where, if the Iranians are there, we're not going to walk out. The Iraqis -- we have always said if they invite us to this regional forum, we will be there. They invited us; we're going to be there.

There's going to be a follow-up at the ministerial level, which likely will include key diplomats from those countries, as well as from G8 countries, and Secretary of State Rice and Mr. Larajani and others will probably be in attendance. But this does not mean that there are going to be sidebars where we're having one-on-one talks with the Iranians. It doesn't mean that there's going to be any departure from past practice. It does mean that if issues come up that are going to be of interest, like EFPs or so on, then, yes, we'll certainly discuss them in the open forum.

Q You're not saying we didn't put a stamp of approval on this with the Iraqis --

MR. SNOW: Of course, we did. We're very happy that this is going on.

Q We pushed it, didn't we?

MR. SNOW: We have encouraged it.
Will this turn out well for America?

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