State Dept. Talks With Iran, N. Korea Look Like Obama Policy

Obama had been criticized by the administration for saying he would talk with the leaders of Iran, North Korea and Cuba to further diplomacy.

"This debate, though, should not be about whether we talk to Iran. That is not the real issue," Rice said in an apparent jab at Obama during a speech last month to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "Diplomacy is not a synonym for talking. True diplomacy means structuring a set of incentives and disincentives to produce change in behavior."

Rice ignored a question on Friday as to whether the new approach was inspired by Obama's plans.

Graham Allison, a former senior official during the Reagan and Clinton administrations and now a professor at Harvard University, called the administration's shift "a flip flop into the reality zone."

"I think that what Bush is doing is quite consistent with what Obama had proposed some months ago, and for which the Bush administration had criticized him," he said. "It's more than ironic that someone who the administration wants to characterize as inexperienced and naive in foreign policy happens to have had a view about Iran, namely that you could talk to them, which ideologues in the administration then characterized as appeasement, which Bush is now adopting."

Obama welcomed the decision to meet with Iran, saying "Now that the United States is involved, it should stay involved with the full strength of our diplomacy. A united front with our friends and allies directly calling on the Iranians to stand down on their illicit nuclear program will maximize the international pressure we can bring to bear and will show the Iranian people that Iran's isolation is a function of its government's unwillingness to live up to its obligations."

The White House has also adopted a new tack with regard to troop levels in Iraq, one that also steps in the direction of Obama's call to withdraw troops as soon as possible.

On Friday the White House said it had agreed with the Iraqi government to an ambiguous "time horizon" for withdrawing troops. The move goes counter to the administration's refusal to apply what it called an "arbitrary timeline" for removing forces from Iraq.

Obama has called for troops to be withdrawn from Iraq over the course of 16 months.

But it remains to be seen how effective the new tactics will be.

Saturday's meeting with Iran yielded no positive response from Tehran on the issue of halting uranium enrichment. Rice told reporters that the United States would have to consider imposing new sanctions if Iran does not agree to suspend enrichment in two weeks.

Talks with North Korea, though they have been met with success in shutting down Pyongyang's plutonium reactor, have been repeatedly delayed and the most contentious issues have yet to be discussed, including North Korea's nuclear weapons stockpiles, which it so far has refused to hand over.

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