11/12/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

GObama! US Agrees to Talks with Iran

To any naysayers who say President Obama has broken all his promises, I say, with all due respect: "na na na na na":

AP reports:

The United States and five partner countries have accepted Iran's new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Friday.

I realize that this may be cold comfort if you took Obama seriously when he said that he was going to renegotiate NAFTA. Okay, that promise was not for real, sorry.

But when he said he was going to talk to Iran, apparently he meant it. Who knew?

It could have gone the other way. The US could have said -- we offered Iran talks on how Iran was going to stop enriching uranium, and Iran has clearly said that it has no intention of stopping the enrichment of uranium, therefore, Iran has not agreed to our offer of talks.

And therefore, we have no choice but to proceed with efforts to cut off Iran's access to gas imports.

As everyone knows, there are plenty of folks in Washington -- and at least one other capital city -- who would have applauded such a course.

But Obama decided to take the high road. We said we wanted talks, and Iran is saying that it wants talks, so let's talk. Why not?

Iran says it wants comprehensive talks. So? Who's against comprehensive talks? More US-Iran cooperation could help make the world a better place on a lot of fronts: Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon.

Making progress in negotiations on Iran's "nuclear file" will not be trivial. But there is a feasible solution, and everyone knows it. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote recently in The Nation:

a solution, of course, would almost definitely have to concede to Iran the right to enrich uranium, on its own soil and independently, in exchange for transparency and a strengthened regime of international inspections.

Dreyfuss notes that while President Obama has acknowledged Iran's right to "the peaceful use of nuclear energy," he has been silent on the question of enrichment.

A charitable view -- but also quite a plausible one -- is that Obama would only acknowledge Iran's right to enrich uranium as part of a deal. If I'm a State Department negotiator, I'm thinking that this is a bargaining chip I'm taking in to the talks. And if I'm a political person in the Administration, I'm thinking that the time to acknowledge Iran's right to enrichment is not before talks, likely unleashing a firestorm of protest from the Likud lobby and its allies in Congress, but in the context of a multilateral deal, when criticism will have a much harder time getting traction.

And if I'm a "Washingtonologist" in Tehran, I haven't failed to notice that Senator Kerry -- chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- has acknowledged Iran's right to enrich uranium. Of course, Senator Kerry does not speak for the Administration. But if I'm a "Washingtonologist" in Tehran, I figure that Senator Kerry is in regular communication with the State Department, and that Senator Kerry wouldn't make a statement that the State Department really doesn't want him to make, and I would take Senator Kerry's statement as a signal that there's an endgame in which the US acknowledges Iran's right to enrich uranium.

This speculation may soon be put to the test, and that's a very good thing. There's vagueness in both the US and Iranian positions, as one would expect. If serious talks commence, the world should be able to see who's trying to get to yes and who's throwing up obstructions.