David Sanger reports in the New York Times, "The Obama administration and its European allies are preparing proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping a longstanding American insistence that Tehran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its atomic program, according to officials involved in the discussions....Administration officials declined to discuss details of their confidential deliberations, but said that any new American policy would ultimately require Iran to cease enrichment, as demanded by several United Nations Security Council resolutions....If Mr. Obama signed off on the new negotiating approach, the United States and its European allies would use new negotiating sessions with Iran to press for interim steps toward suspension of its nuclear activities, starting with allowing international inspectors into sites from which they have been barred for several years....A senior Israeli with access to the intelligence on Iran said during a recent visit to Washington that Mr. Obama had only until the fall or the end of the year to 'completely end' the production of uranium in Iran. The official made it clear that after that point, Israel might revive its efforts to take out the Natanz plant by force.... An Obama administration official said ...'we don't think their threats are just huffing and puffing.'"
Two days after the Times report, Secretary of Clinton said, "We have not dropped or added any conditions." Bloomberg News reported that "The Obama administration won't impose additional sanctions on Iran if it freezes nuclear development work and joins talks over the future of its program, European diplomats said. Undersecretary of State William Burns informed Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia of the new U.S. approach to the so-called "freeze-for-freeze" proposal at a meeting in London on April 8, according to the diplomats, who spoke on condition they weren't identified. ...The European diplomats said that in return for the new U.S. concession Iran would have to refrain from further development steps, such as adding centrifuges to enrich uranium. The deal would be for a limited time leading up to the beginning of formal negotiations."
Michael Crowley at The New Republic "Plank" blog compares all this to a recommendation Dennis Ross made in March 2008:
"In order to launch [credible negotiations with Iran], the next president will need to drop the Bush precondition that Iran must first suspend its uranium enrichment. But since there is a danger that Iran will see this as an admission of defeat in which America will concede everything sooner or later, the next president must succeed in increasing economic pressures at the same time. To do so, and thus prime the ground for negotiations, America must convince its European allies to adjust their policies as well as strategically influence less friendly powers like China and Russia to fall in line. America's readiness to talk to Iran without conditions provides leverage with those who want it to join the negotiations with the Iranians. In particular, the Europeans have been convinced, rightly or wrongly, that a deal with the Iranians on the nuclear issue is possible, but only if the United States is also at the table. It is the United States, they believe, that can provide what the Iranians most want in terms of full acceptance of the regime, security assurances, and an end to sanctions and calls for economic boycotts. Given this view, the next administration must go quietly to the British, French and Germans and make clear that while it is ready to drop the precondition on Iranian suspension of enrichment, join the talks directly, and put a credible comprehensive proposal on the table, it cannot do so until they agree to ratchet up the pressure on Iran at the same time. Europeans would thus need to agree on E.U.-wide sanctions that cut off investment in the Iranian oil and natural gas sectors, commerce with Iranian banks, and all credit guarantees to their companies doing business in Iran." But, the Plank notes, the Bush precondition was dropped before the EU stepped up the pressure. Crowley says, "I don't know if that represents an internal defeat for Ross--or maybe just an acknowledgment that Iran holds most of the cards here."