Last Monday, Geneive Abdo — who is the director of the Iran program at the Middle East Institute in Washington, and who will never be mistaken for a neocon — described optimism emerging from the P5+1 talks as a “pretense” designed to “buy time to avert a unilateral attack by Israel” and buttress “Obama’s wish to get through the November election.”

Abdo specifically cited statements made by Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, to the effect that Iran’s “national resistance” had put the country on an “irreversible” nuclear path. A few days later Reuters passed along IAEA information indicating Iran has installed 350 new centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility. (In February the IAEA reported that Iran already tripled its output of 20 percent uranium at Fordow, but apparently the Iranians concluded that wasn’t enough.) Perhaps as a kind of exclamation point, Iran also held military maneuvers this week ostensibly aimed at “global arrogance.”

And then as if to prove Abdo’s point about pretenses, the New York Times headlined its article yesterday as “Iran Talks Are Extended as Signs of Common Ground Are Seen.” But even the Times, which has been doing yeoman’s work helping the Obama administration minimize Iran’s drive for a nuclear weapon, had to open with the observation that there was no actual evidence of common ground. Luckily, the paper managed to track down an anonymous administration source to assert it exists. Very convenient, and good enough for a headline:

Iran appeared to balk Wednesday at a detailed proposal presented by six world powers to address urgent concerns about its nuclear program, including a freeze on its enrichment of uranium that could be converted to bomb-grade fuel, because of what the Iranian side suggested was an insufficient easing of sanctions in exchange.

But after a long day of diplomatic negotiations, both sides agreed to keep talking into Thursday. A senior American official said that despite disagreements some common ground had been reached, suggesting that diplomats had extended the constructive atmosphere that has prevailed since the talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program were resumed last month.

“We’re getting to things that matter,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “Even if we disagree on the shape, we think there is the beginning of a negotiation.”

That’s really what passes for a “constructive atmosphere” these days, isn’t it? Iran’s lead negotiator preemptively closing the door on compromise, Iran’s military holding war games aimed at P5+1 members, and the West pretending that none of that is true. “Despite little progress,” by the by, the next round of negotiations have been set for mid-June. It’s almost difficult to understand why the Israelis have no confidence in the talks.

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