On Betsy' Page, Ms. Newmark teaches Obama a little history.
She's right - I was only 12 at the time of the Cuban Missiles Crisis, but I remember it - and, years later, a made-for-television movie that laid out the background maneuverings that followed Khrushchev's decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba. Far from being an open-handed crawl to the international table, Kennedy was prepared to blockade Cuba, and most of the negotiations were designed to give Khrushchev a face-saving way out.
You can't show up at international negotiations empty-handed, and hope for a good deal. Pre-conditions have a purpose - they set the outside boundaries. Sometimes, these conditions have another purpose - they are pre-conference moves designed to test the opponents' mettle. I'm thinking of the Paris peace talks - the North Vietnamese made ridiculous demands about the shape and size of the table.
Why make such silly pre-conditions? It sets the tone of the conference - it tests just how much the opponent will concede in the actual event. Think of it like that salesmen's trick of getting a potential buyer to start agreeing before the sale - it sets up the eventual "yes" to buying. It also wears down the average person.