THE LATEST ON IRAN….The Bush administration is reversing course ? despite Tony Snow’s desperate denial that any such thing is taking place ? and has agreed to direct talks with Iran. Good for them

I guess. Because of course there’s a catch. As I said a few weeks ago about awkward diplomatic initiatives:

The usual response, if talks are unwelcome, is to demand some kind of obviously unacceptable precondition for the proposed meeting. This forces the other country to make concessions before negotiations have begun, and since no one is stupid enough to do that, it derails the talks nicely.

And that’s exactly how it’s playing out. The United States is demanding that Iran halt its nuclear program first, and only then will we join the Europeans in talks.

Here’s hoping it works. It might, especially if it’s true that Iran is having troubles with its uranium enrichment program and wouldn’t really lose anything by halting it for a while. Still, this is straight out of the Diplomacy 101 playbook as a way of responding to pressure to look reasonable without actually running the risk of reaching a peaceful agreement. Stay tuned.