Paul Greenberg

It may be fall but everything's coming up roses in Geneva -- and in every press release about how swimmingly negotiations have been going in that picture-postcard-perfect Swiss spa. (How come diplomatic conferences are never held in Gary, Indiana, or East St. Louis, Illinois?) The subject of last week's meetings in picturesque Geneva: how to work out a deal over Iran's nuclear weapons program. That's right, the vast program that doesn't exist, never existed, and will be halted if only the West would be so kind as to lift its sanctions on trade with that country and theocracy.

Each side, East and West, had its own agenda as the twain met in Geneva last week. No wonder the late League of Nations chose Geneva as the site for all its futile deliberations. It's a lovely city on a lake and a fine place to take a vacation from all the petty irritations and frustrations of the real world. Like how to achieve a real peace.

Anyone who's read even a little history about Europe between the Wars will know the formula for an officially successful negotiation: talk a lot and achieve little if anything. Except maybe the next, bigger and worse war.

The only thing that seems to have changed about such formal conclaves since the Roaring Twenties and Drab Thirties is that the diplomats no longer wear wing collars and striped pants. Flowery blouses and dresses now crop up in the group photographs. But little else seems to have changed over the years. Especially the futility of international conferences. That the aims of the High Contracting Parties involved in such conferences may be diametrically opposed is but a minor detail that never seems to get in the way of the Pollyannas who write the communiqués.

The aim of Iran's mullahs in these latest negotiations at Geneva is to end the West's crippling sanctions on their country's economy. Which is understandable. Iran's oil exports have fallen sharply, its currency is largely worthless, its banks paralyzed, and the natives grow restless.

For the West, the aim is to keep Iran's nuclear program from producing a nuclear weapon, which by now is almost within reach. If only Iran's military-industrial complex can buy a little more time at Geneva, all these oh-so-solemn proceedings will prove but abstractions. Which is why Iran's diplomats are willing to talk, and talk and talk, at Geneva. So long as those centrifuges can keep whirring and Iran's supply of enriched uranium keeps mounting.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.