U.S. shifts tack on Iran with decision to send envoy to nuclear talks
The US also hopes to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran for the first time in 30 years, according to the Guardian newspaper.
In a surprising development in the tense American-Iranian relationship, the US announced this week that it would send a high-level State Department official to attend talks with Iranian nuclear negotiators in Switzerland over the weekend. This unexpected policy turn comes after a tense, saber rattling summer during which the US, Israel, and Iran have traded threats, staged war games, and tested weapons. But observers suggest that the shift in the US's longstanding tactic of isolating Tehran may be motivated by a desire to ensure that other countries such as China and Russia do not make too many concessions to Iran during the negotiations.Skip to next paragraph
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The New York Times reports that the decision to send Undersecretary of State William Burns to Saturday's negotiations in Switzerland will be the highest-level contact between US and Iranian officials since 1979, when revolutionary students seized the US Embassy in Tehran and took 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Sending Mr. Burns to the meeting represents a major two-pronged policy shift, the news analysis suggests.
First, the Bush administration has decided to abandon its longstanding position that it would meet face to face with Iran only after the country suspended its uranium enrichment, as demanded by the United Nations Security Council.
Second, an American partner at the table injects new importance to the negotiating track of the six global powers confronting Iran – France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China and the United States – even though their official stance is that no substantive talks can begin until uranium enrichment stops.
The move comes at a time when escalating US-Iran rhetoric is peppered with mixed signals that have created conditions for both parties to come away from the negotiating table with a claim to victory, reports The Washington Post.
For more than two years, the Bush administration has had the same bottom line: Iran must suspend its enrichment of uranium – a route to a nuclear weapon – before serious talks can begin. U.S. officials insisted yesterday that such a demand, also shared by European allies, had not changed, but the diplomatic lines have become sufficiently hazy that if negotiations start in earnest, Iran will also be able to claim a diplomatic victory.
Iran last week sent its own mixed signals, test-firing long-range missiles in the Persian Gulf while appearing conciliatory on possible negotiations.