David Ignatius writes in today's Washington Post on a briefing Obama and his advisers held for a small group of journalists:
President Obama put the issue of negotiating with Iran firmly back on the table Wednesday in an unusual White House session with journalists. His message was that even as U.N. sanctions squeeze Tehran, he is leaving open a "pathway" for a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue.
"It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show that they are not pursuing nuclear weapons," Obama said, adding: "They should know what they can say 'yes' to." As in the past, he left open the possibility that the United States would accept a deal that allows Iran to maintain its civilian nuclear program, so long as Iran provides "confidence-building measures" to verify that it is not building a bomb.
The renewed opening to Iran also included a proposal for talks on Afghanistan. Obama said he favored a "separate track" for discussion of this issue, in which the two sides have a "mutual interest" in fighting the Taliban. He urged that, as part of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's push for "reintegration" with the Taliban, Iran should be included in regional talks about stability. "Iran should be a part of that and could be a constructive partner," he said.
Robert Kagan came away from the meeting with a distinctly different impression. Kagan writes at the Washington Post:
[Administration officials] didn't want to say flat out that the administration was not pursuing a new diplomatic initiative because this might suggest that the administration was not interested in diplomacy at all. But they made perfectly clear -- in a half-dozen artful formulations -- that, no, there was no new diplomatic initiative in the offing. As one bemused senior official later remarked to me, if the point of the briefing had been diplomacy, then the administration would have brought its top negotiators to the meeting, instead of all the people in charge of putting the squeeze on Iran. Some journalists nevertheless left with the impression that the big "news" out of their meeting with the president was a possible new round of diplomacy.
Kagan writes of Obama: "It was clear that he had no illusions about Iran."
Read the whole thing here.