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Meeting Iran: If It Goes Well, There’ll Be an Opportunity for Lunch

At the State Department press conference yesterday, Assistant Secretary of State Philip J. Crowley was asked to respond to Iran’s assertion that it will not talk about its second nuclear facility at this coming Thursday’s meeting:

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we’re — as we have stated quite clearly, we have encouraged this meeting because the United States and the international community have concerns about all of Iran’s activities, all of its nuclear ambitions. We seek answers to questions that we’ve had for some time and questions that were raised most recently by this covert reactor.

So that is the ultimate question on the table: Is Iran going to come to the meeting on Thursday, prepared to seriously address the concerns that the international community has? And we’ll see what happens on Thursday.

Sounds tough. One wonders exactly how tough, however, given the answers to the questions that followed. First–since Obama assured us last year that his advocacy of meetings without “preconditions” did not mean lack of “preparations”–do we know who is going to show up for Iran?

QUESTION: Have they even actually confirmed that they are going to attend the meeting — and at what level — or even attend it at all?

MR. CROWLEY: We — I don’t — as of last night, I don’t know that we had a confirmation as to who was attending the meetings. So I think that — I’ll take the question if we have any further indication as to who will be in the delegation.

Okay, so we don’t know who’s coming. But what about the details of the meeting from our side? Has anyone thought them through, especially what happens if Iran says it won’t talk about the nuclear issue?

QUESTION: P.J., do you have any indication, do you know any of the details of how this will come about, the talks Thursday, in the sense that — do they all sit around the same table? Do they make presentations? And if the Iranians, as they’ve said, refuse to discuss the nuclear issue, what is the reaction? Does everybody else get up and walk out?

MR. CROWLEY: . . . I think leading the effort will be Javier Solana. So many of the mechanics of the meeting, both in terms of the setting, the duration, et cetera, will be up to him. I think that we will welcome whatever opportunity presents itself for discussion, both as the P5+1, and then if it goes well, you can probably anticipate one or more plenary discussions, perhaps the opportunity for lunch and further discussion.

Okay, Mr. Solana’s handling all that — mechanics, duration, lunch. But at the end of the meeting, will Crowley provide a “readout,” giving a sense of whether it’s “worth continuing with this at all”? Or will there be just a “thumbs-up or thumbs-down that it’s a useful engagement”?

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, I would put it this way. The President has said clearly that we’re interested in a process. We don’t think that these issues will be solved in one meeting. I don’t think that we’ll get the full perspective of Iran’s willingness to engage in one meeting. But clearly, once we are at the table, we hear from them, we see the tone, we’ll know some things.

And then the real question is, are they willing to engage in a process. . . .

So Thursday’s meeting will start a process without preconditions and, apparently, without a lot of preparation either. If the meeting makes it through lunch, however, expect a “readout” suggesting it was a “useful” start, although one requiring a lot more meetings to meet the tough Western demands.



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