First, the US must deal with Europe to begin talks. But how impatient is it for quick results?
A delicate dance of teaser diplomacy has begun between Iran and the Obama administration. Both sides are deciding how, or even whether, to hold talks that could, ultimately, reshape the Middle East. As it nears a nuclear capability, Iran can afford to play for time. But how much patience does President Obama have in such a case?
The first inklings of US resolve may come this week as American envoy William Burns consults with Europe on possible talks with a country that supports terrorists but also holds immense reserves of oil and gas.
Three allies – Britain, Germany, and France – have spent five years talking to Iran about ending its nuclear program, only to fail. Those talks did perhaps deflect a possible attack on Iranian atomic facilities by Israel or the Bush administration. But they resulted in only limited United Nations-approved sanctions on the Islamic regime. And this "EU-3" group of negotiators did finally set a condition that Iran must suspend its nuclear quest before talks resume.
Now Mr. Obama wants to drop that precondition. This new US position makes some in Europe wonder if the new president may end up not being tough enough on Iran or may even be ready to accept it developing atomic weapons.
But Obama's message to Europe is this: Talking with Iran will help bring more support for tougher sanctions applied by even more countries, and thus help prevent a military confrontation. China, for instance, still supplies Iran with much of what it needs.