Let’s try to sort out what happening on the front of dealing with Iran’s pesky nuclear program.
In Italy, the G-8 countries took a stab at addressing the issue, but the result is, well, less than clear.
First, here’s President Obama’s take, from a news conference on Friday in L’Aquila:
“This notion that we were trying to get sanctions or that this was a forum in which we could get sanctions is not accurate. …
“There was the agreement that we will reevaluate Iran’s posture towards negotiating the cessation of a nuclear weapons policy. We’ll evaluate that at the G20 meeting in September. And I think what that does is it provides a time frame. The international community has said, here’s a door you can walk through that allows you to lessen tensions and more fully join the international community. If Iran chooses not to walk through that door, then you have on record the G8, to begin with, but I think potentially a lot of other countries that are going to say we need to take further steps. And that’s been always our premise, is that we provide that door, but we also say we’re not going to just wait indefinitely and allow for the development of a nuclear weapon, the breach of international treaties, and wake up one day and find ourselves in a much worse situation and unable to act.
“So my hope is, is that the Iranian leadership will look at the statement coming out of the G8 and recognize that world opinion is clear.”
A lot of verbiage, but Obama seems to be saying that “other steps” — i.e., sanctions — will be taken if Iran doesn’t take up the offer to negotiate by September. In so saying, Obama is hinting at, but not exactly saying, that Iran has until September to start talking. Earlier, in May, he’d suggested that Iran also has until the end of 2009 or early next year to make progress toward a deal, so in a sense Obama is setting not one but two very rough deadlines: one for Iran to sit down and talk and one for Iran to convince the United States it’s ready to make progress.
At least one Iranian official, Ali Akbar Velayati, a former Iranian foreign minister, signalled that Tehran might not be averse to opening the dialogue with the US. The Washington Post portrayed Velayati’s comments thusly, after first referring to the surprise release of five Iranian diplomats seized by US forces in northern Iran in January 2007: