Several bloggers have taken to the meme that Richard Burns is to play the role of spoiler in Europe's negotiations with Iran. I think they are wrong. (Lots of commenters too in this post disagree with my premise that this is a great first step.) The example to point to is what Chris Nelson mentions in regards to our negotiations with North Korea:
Will Burns be allowed to talk directly with the Iranians? Not officially...State and the White House today sounded very much like the restrictions initially put on lead N. Korea negotiator Chris Hill, that he couldn't meet bilaterally with his DPRK counterpart, had to have others in the room when he did, etc.
(There was a press rumor Burns would make a "surprise" follow-on visit to Teheran, but our sources say "highly unlikely at this time.")
But Burns, like Hill, is a pro with the requisite intestinel fortitude, so on balance the decision to allow him to participate within the European delegation...especially when paired with permission for State to establish an "interest section" in the Swiss Embassy in Teheran...is the first serious ray of light to shine on US-Iran dialogue in a long time.
They may be right. But I don't think so and I'd trust Chris Nelson on this any day. There has been a lot of behind the scenes talk going on for quite some time, talks that have flown way under the radar for obvious domestic political reasons. And now, as I commented elsewhere, "we might actually see this as a first, very small, tentative step in the right direction."
Of course there is the blindingly obvious: what's happening now is much, much better than the sabre rattling that was going on this time last year. Was it Churchill who said, "jaw-jaw is better than war-war"?
I would (cynically) note that the oil argument does have some merit and they might just be bying time for a McCain win, but still, these are extremely lengths to go in order to do so.