CBS: Bush Iran Policy Moving Closer to Obama’s

Harry Smith and Bill Plante, CBS While reporting that a top U.S. diplomat will attend an international meeting with an Iranian negotiator on Wednesday’s CBS "Early Show," correspondent Bill Plante suggested such a meeting represented the Bush Administration moving toward Barack Obama’s goal of direct negotiations with Iran: "Absolutely a first and it's a sharp break from what has been the policy of the Bush Administration...Now official disclaimers aside, the fact that the administration is sending someone to this meeting is a very big deal. And since Obama has put it into the political debate it is sure to stay as part of the political discussion."

Following that report, co-host Harry Smith talked to political analyst Jeff Greenfield about the impact on the presidential campaign:

So interesting, this has been part and parcel of the political discussion of the two campaigns for several months now. Barack Obama says we should talk to some of these folks. McCain has long maintained, very much along the administration lines, we don't talk unless they stop enriching uranium. How does this reflect, do you think, upon the campaigns?

Greenfield responded by describing how the diplomatic meeting would help Obama: "But if your whole argument, and it was Senator Clinton's as well, against Obama is he's naive, he doesn't understand the world, and now to have the administration say, 'okay, the precondition we can set aside,' it tends to undercut the argument, which is going to be a key to Obama's critics, that he doesn't understand the world."

Smith went on to discuss the latest poll numbers: "Brand new CBS News/New York Times poll out. Fresh numbers in the last 24 hours. Looks like Senator Obama is maintaining his lead over John McCain among registered voters." Greenfield commented on how the poll gave Obama a slight lead among male voters: "If Obama can somehow keep men to an even number, he's going to win the election because women are going to vote Democratic." Smith added: "Yeah, and women, thus far, the lead is even more substantial."

Greenfield concluded his analysis by declaring:

To summarize, the reason why Obama's supporters are taking heart is all of the key battleground states that Democrats must hold -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wisconsin -- Obama's running well ahead. But in the states Republicans have to have, like Ohio, Obama's got a small lead. In Missouri it's pretty much even. In Virginia, very competitive. A lot of states Republicans must have, Colorado, the Democrats are now ahead...right now the terrain is tilting more to Obama than McCain.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:00AM TEASER:

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ: Shift in strategy. President Bush sends a top diplomat to meet with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator.

7:07AM SEGMENT:

HARRY SMITH: A major development in the effort to get Iran to back off its nuclear program. The Bush Administration is sending a top diplomat to an international meeting that will also be attended by Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. That's a first. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante joins us live with more on that. Good morning, Bill.

BILL PLANTE: Morning, Harry. Absolutely a first and it's a sharp break from what has been the policy of the Bush Administration. And it comes at a time of tension between the U.S. and Iran. Just one week after Iran's saber rattling missile tests, the State Department announced that a top U.S. Diplomat will attend talks in Geneva this weekend on Iran's nuclear program. The move is a departure from the administration's long-held stance that it will not negotiate with Iran unless Iran first suspends uranium enrichment.

WILLIAM BURNS: We in the administration are fully committed to diplomacy with regard to the Iranian nuclear issue.

PLANTE: William Burns, the third highest ranking U.S. diplomat, will hear Iran's response to a package of economic and diplomatic incentives offered in June. It's hoped that the move will lead to talks like those that resulted in a deal with North Korea last month. President Bush approved the contact but stressed that it was a one-time decision and insisted the U.S. would be there only to listen, not to directly negotiate. The prospect of a nuclear armed Iran and what to do about it has spilled over into the presidential campaign.

BARACK OBAMA: I think Iran poses a significant threat to stability in the Middle East. So I think we have to talk to Iran directly.

JOHN MCCAIN: Such a statement betrays the depth of Senator Obama's inexperience and reckless judgment.

PLANTE: Now official disclaimers aside, the fact that the administration is sending someone to this meeting is a very big deal. And since Obama has put it into the political debate it is sure to stay as part of the political discussion. Harry.

SMITH: Alright, thanks very much, Bill Plante, in Washington this morning. Joining us now is CBS News chief political correspondent Jeff Greenfield. So interesting, this has been part and parcel of the political discussion of the two campaigns for several months now. Barack Obama says we should talk to some of these folks. McCain has long maintained, very much along the administration lines, we don't talk unless they stop enriching uranium. How does this reflect, do you think, upon the campaigns?

JEFF GREENFIELD: Well, I'm sure the McCain campaign will say it's different to meet with an envoy than with a president, which is one of Obama's notions, 'yes, I'll meet.' [Cough] Excuse me. But if your whole argument, and it was Senator Clinton's as well, against Obama is he's naive, he doesn't understand the world, and now to have the administration say, 'okay, the precondition we can set aside,' it tends to undercut the argument, which is going to be a key to Obama's critics, that he doesn't understand the world.

SMITH: Yeah. Brand new CBS News/New York Times poll out. Fresh numbers in the last 24 hours. Looks like Senator Obama is maintaining his lead over John McCain among registered voters. Let's talk first about men, though.

GREENFIELD: Really interesting that he would be leading even marginally among men because Bush beat Kerry by some 11 points among men. That's a traditional gender gap. If Obama can somehow keep men to an even number, he's going to win the election because women are going to vote Democratic.

SMITH: Yeah, and women, thus far, the lead is even more substantial.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

SMITH: Yeah, yeah. As we look at this, race is an interesting aspect, and one of the headlines in The Times this morning was it didn't look like Obama has particularly strong support among white voters. But neither does McCain for that matter.

GREENFIELD: Well, the last Democrat to carry the white vote was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The question is how much do you lose them and it's true that more whites view Obama unfavorably than McCain but you can also translate it into partisanship. Whites tend to vote Republican a little more than Democrats and blacks vote Democratic very heavily. And by the way, in this CBS poll Hispanics are breaking for Obama right now about 2 and a half to 3-1. McCain needs some 40% of the Hispanics to win.

SMITH: Alright, let's get away from those giant national numbers and let's get down to the real stuff. Electoral college and how does the map look like -- what does it look like for McCain and Obama right now?

GREENFIELD: To summarize, the reason why Obama's supporters are taking heart is all of the key battleground states that Democrats must hold -- Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wisconsin -- Obama's running well ahead. But in the states Republicans have to have, like Ohio, Obama's got a small lead. In Missouri it's pretty much even. In Virginia, very competitive. A lot of states Republicans must have, Colorado, the Democrats are now ahead. Now look, it's July, everybody has to take the decaf this morning and for the four, three and a half months. But right now the terrain is tilting more to Obama than McCain. That's why we have campaigns, though, Harry.

SMITH: Yeah and they -- actually they -- people vote and then the results are often -- so often different.

GREENFIELD: Here's our motto. Let somebody vote before we predict.

SMITH: There you go, 16 weeks to go. Jeff Greenfield thank you so much. Do appreciate it.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC