CNN reports that talks have begun between the campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for a “graceful exit strategy” today. Team Hillary apparently won’t make this easy, though. According to Suzanne Malveaux, the Obama campaign won’t offer Hillary the VP slot, and she may not do much for him without at least the offer (via David Knowles and TPM):

The endgame sounds almost as fraught as the primary. Neither side wants to give much to end the competition before the convention. Hillary wants Obama to make some public show of penance for his behavior on the campaign trail and respect for her status within the party. But what form will that take? You’re not going to believe this …

Hillary’s campaign wants a public offer for the VP slot with the understanding that she will publicly decline. That will allow her to leave the race with dignity and respect, and supposedly unlock enthusiastic support and campaigning for Obama. However, the Obama team doesn’t trust Hillary to turn down the invitation. Once offered, they can hardly retract it if she publicly accepts — and clearly the Obama team does not want Hillary as a running mate.

So much for the Unity Ticket!

From the CNN report, it’s clear that Hillary’s campaign did all the leaking to CNN. They’re looking for a way out that will sustain the standing of both Clintons in the Democratic Party, and Obama may not find that a terribly palatable situation for a campaign based on Hope and Change and little else. That leaves Hillary the opportunity to play for 2012, hoping to see Obama fail in the fall. Obama may also resist the obvious condition that he pick up Hillary’s $20 million debt, which will cut his campaign war-chest in half and put him even with John McCain.

I’d say it will take a lot more negotiation before this ends — but that the eventual resolution will likely come before the convention, and possibly as soon as the second week of June.