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Conditions Of Confusion

Barack Obama's insistence during the Democratic debates last fall that he would personally meet with leaders of antagonistic countries like Iran was one of the relatively few substantive differences between himself and Hillary Clinton during the primary campaign. And it has already become one of the first flash points of the general election.

Recent comments by Obama and his campaign about just where he stands on the issue of conditions, preconditions and direct meetings has caused even more confusion. Who would he meet with when and under what "conditions?" CBS News chief political consultant Marc Ambinder takes an exhaustive look at what exactly Obama is on the topic. The entire post is worth a good read, but here's a sampling:

What we're trying to figure out is, what would it take for Obama to meet with the leaders of Iran? An invitation from Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei? Previous diplomacy? Concessions? An OK from the head of the PPD that it's safe to travel?

It's clear now that Obama would not, pledge, within the first year of his administration, meet directly with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without "preconditions" and without equivocation. It IS clear that Obama would meet with Ahmadinejad (or Ali Khamenei) without forcing Ahmadinejad (or Ali Khamenei) to provably suspend uranium enrichment. It's also clear that Obama would be more willing to meet with these leaders than McCain.

Obama's campaign now uses the word "with preparation" as shorthand to refer to diplomatic advance work; other advisers use the word "unconditional" as a straw man to suggest that critics are accusing Obama of wanting to meet "unconditionally" with these leaders -- of course their would be "conditions" -- there just wouldn't be "pre-conditions." (Would there be .... post-conditions?)