STATE DEPT. BACKS ACTUAL DIPLOMACY….NEWS AT 11….Direct talks with Syria and Iran are still verboten, but Condoleezza Rice has agreed to attend a regional meeting set up by the Iraqi government:

The first meeting, at the ambassadorial level, will be held next month. Then Rice herself will sit down at the table with the foreign ministers from Damascus and Tehran at a second meeting in April elsewhere in the region, possibly in Istanbul.

….Yesterday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack repeatedly declined to rule out the possibility of bilateral discussions between Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts, except to note that the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program is already being handled on a separate diplomatic track. “I’m not going to exclude any particular interaction at this point . . . on issues that are important to us, but the focus will be on Iraq,” he said.

It’s a start.