I wish this headline in the NY Times was a joke, but it is not:

U.S. Wonders if Iran Is Playing for Time or Is Serious on Deal

This is a “news analysis” piece, so the Times will be all over the nuance angle:

But the trick now for Mr. Obama, administration officials concede, will be to avoid getting rolled.

Obama, get rolled? Why would anyone be afraid of that after Copenhagen? After all, Obama’s top notch negotiators extracted a ground-breaking concession from the Iranians, to ship their uranium abroad for further processing. Just think, progress.

For the administration though, the problem is that no one is certain that the Iranian government will actually do what Western officials say that they have now agreed to do. In fact, on Friday, less than 24 hours after the talks in Geneva broke up, Iranian officials did not sound as if they thought they had promised anything.

“No, no!” Mehdi Saffare, Iran’s ambassador to Britain and a member of the Iranian delegation to the negotiations told the Associated Press. He said that sending Iran’s enriched uranium out of the county had “not been discussed yet.”

Okay, so the concession and breakthrough was not really a concession and breakthrough. This will all be cleared up at the next meeting, right?

This is not the first time that Western officials have left discussions with their Iranian counterparts thinking they had a deal, only to see it melt away. In 2007, European diplomats said they thought they had wrung a concession from Iran on the same issue, enriching uranium outside the country for use in Iranian reactors, only to have Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reject the idea as an impingement on Iran’s sovereignty.

This is all a misunderstanding. Time is on our side, right?

The clearest risk is that the Iranians may play for time, as they often have been accused of doing in the past, making promises and encouraging more meetings, while waiting for political currents to change or the closed ranks among the Western allies to break.

Now the Times has got it. The problem is that some people have “accused” the Iranians of playing for time. Obama will not fall for that old trick, I’m confident of it. After all, Obama announced a two-week deadline for the Iranians to open their no-longer-secret enrichment facility to inspection:

A State Department spokesman on Friday signaled that the president’s mandate that Iran has two weeks to permit inspections of its recently unveiled uranium refinement plant was not “written in stone.”

“I don’t think that there’s a hard-and-fast deadline,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said during Friday’s press briefing, after a reporter asked what the consequences of Iran’s inaction might be.

On further reflection, I think we are in for a world of hurt. Nothwithstanding Juan Cole‘s foolish looking victory dance that

Barack Obama pwned Bush-Cheney in one day, and got more concessions from Iran in 7 1/2 hours than the former administration got in 8 years of saber-rattling.

Related Posts:
What Do Juan Cole and “Death to America” Have In Common?
“Heads They Win, Tails We Lose” Diplomacy
He Who Cannot Stop Talking, Is Silent On Iran

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