Hope and change: Bush envoy to meet with Iran over nuke program

There’s no “direct presidential diplomacy” in the offing but otherwise it’s straight out of the Obama playbook. Preconditions? Duly dropped:

[T]he Bush administration has decided to abandon its longstanding position that it will only meet face-to-face with Iran after it first suspends uranium enrichment as demanded by the United Nations Security Council…

All of the Bush administration’s negotiating partners, particularly the Europeans and the Russians, have been pressing Washington to join the talks. They welcomed the decision to send Mr. Burns as an important signal by the Bush administration, in its final months in office, that it is seeking a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis and not moving toward military action against Iran…

Mr. Burns will neither meet privately nor negotiate directly with [Iranian negotiator Saeed] Jalili, administration and European officials said. They expect his attendance to be a one-time event in what are being described as “pre-negotiations” on the shape and timing of more substantive talks. Ms. Rice told Mr. Solana that Mr. Burns would be there “to listen,” one official added.

“Pre-negotiations” sounds like, er, “preparations,” doesn’t it? Ah well. This isn’t really from the Obama playbook for the simple reason that there’s a credible threat of military action if the negotiations fail, but it is humiliating to see Bush dragged to the table after resisting for so long. Why now? A senior U.S. official tells the AP that having Burns there is designed to present Iran with a united western front but also to communicate the sincerity of the U.S.’s incentives offer. I wonder if in fact it isn’t born of the administration having finally concluded that Iran’s simply not going to change its position on enrichment and further negotiations are therefore essentially pointless, in which case we might as well try some desperate face-losing gesture in a last-ditch attempt to avoid war. Bush has no choice, really: The “rush to war” narrative on Iraq is so poisonous by now that he can’t afford a replay if the time comes for action on Iran. So yeah, by all means send Burns and let Jalili tell him to his face that Iran will never suspend enrichment. Then think about maybe scheduling another meeting for next month so he can tell him the same thing again.

Exit question: Who benefits most from this politically, Obama or McCain? St. Barack gets to crow that Bush has come around to his position, but it does take some of the teeth out of the “GOP warmongers” critique, doesn’t it?

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