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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Vladimir Simonov)

Talks between high ranking U.S. and North Korean officials started in New York on Monday. They may lead to the U.S. diplomatic recognition of the country which was used to be the worst enemy of the United States.
On Saturday, the United States is planning to hold an international conference on settlement in Iraq with the participation of Iran and Syria, which Washington once blacklisted as the “axis of evil”.
This about-face of American diplomacy is all the more astounding since it took place in a matter of a month and a half. In middle January Condoleezza Rice reassured the Senate that the United States would not go for any bilateral diplomatic contacts with North Korea, Iran or Syria until they became reasonably flexible on disputable issues. The U.S. Secretary of State described the policies of these countries as “extortion” rather than diplomacy.
This “extortion” is still in place, and it is Washington that has become flexible. Recently, the six negotiators, including the U.S. reached agreement with Pyongyang under which it promised to shut down its main nuclear reactor in exchange for food and fuel. Likewise, an invitation to take part in the Iraqi conference has come as a surprise to Tehran, and moved Damascus to the point of calling this initiative a “partial step in the right direction.”
Indicatively, these preludes to talks with the enemy were invariably preceded by its public criticism for intrigues against American interests.
Nobody could match Rice in the UN Security Council in her demands for tough sanctions against North Korea after its nuclear test in October. In case of Iran and Syria, she also preceded the invitation to the conference in Baghdad with a package of confrontation provoking speeches, and accused Tehran of collaboration with the Shiite militants in attacking U.S. troops. To sum up, each time dessert followed the bitter pill.
Meanwhile, the United States has been building up its positions for future talks with the “axis of evil”. But this was not its sole purpose: Rice and her soul mates had to demonstrate anger at the rogue countries to ward off accusations of inappropriate leniency to America’s old-time foes.
These accusations are somewhat justified. Since the start of war in Iraq in 2003, the U.S. Administration and the political elite have been split into two camps – those who want to talk to the “axis of evil”, and those who are ready to deal with friends only.
The first group was represented by such patriarchs of diplomacy as Henry Kissinger, members of the Iraq Study Group James Baker and Lee Hamilton, and Condoleezza Rice herself, who has been backed in the last few weeks by her new deputy John Negroponte. The isolationists include Vice President Dick Cheney, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and other ideologists of the Project for the New American Century.
The opponents of dialog with the enemy triumphed in the first year of the Iraqi war, but the recent developments at the remote frontlines have dramatically reduced their control over foreign policy.
The recent news has dealt a heavy blow at the isolationist clan – a group of top-ranking officers, advisors to Gen. David Petraeus, the new commander of the American troops in Iraq have come to the conclusion that the United States has six months to win the war in Iraq. Otherwise, it will sustain a defeat like it did in Vietnam.
The November mid-term elections to the Congress have shown that the majority of Americans do not support those who are prone to defending national interests abroad with tanks rather than talks. Last but not least, now that their term is expiring, George W. Bush and his administration are increasingly concerned with their place in history.
In Washington’s official view, the “axis of evil” continues to exist, and has not become any better. But the American doctrine of isolating objectionable countries has proved to be counterproductive. Talking to friends is great, but talking to enemies is sometimes vitally important.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of RIA Novosti.