DEJA vu will be the inevitable reaction to yesterday's news that the European Union's Foreign Minister, Lady Ashton, has received a letter from Tehran proposing a renewal of talks on its nuclear programme. It is almost exactly a year ago that similar talks were abandoned when the tentative agreement reached with Iran's negotiators was negated by their government. Is this another delaying tactic? Perhaps, but it could be the result of recognition by Iran that the extensive UN and EU sanctions now being implemented are making life difficult in many areas of Iran's commerce, industry, military and nuclear programmes -- as well as for the public at large.

The EU, UN, Russia and US should give careful consideration to Tehran's latest approach. President Ahmadinejad spoke at the UN in September about the possibility of a resumption of talks but linked this to Israel's officially unacknowledged possession of nuclear weapons and the role of the International Atomic Energy Authority. The deal discussed last year was a purely technical one, by which Iran's partially enriched uranium would be sent to France and Russia for processing for use in Iran's medical and power reactors. This is still the best approach, at least in the short term. Iran will probably try to add a calling- off of sanctions and inspection of Israeli nuclear facilities to the negotiations; they should not be ruled out but kept in reserve once the first-stage deal envisaged last year is activated.