COMMON courtesy, as well as diplomatic protocol, requires that when someone you haven't heard from for 27 years suddenly sends you a letter you should at least acknowledge it in polite language. But that is not what happened when President Ahmadinejad of Iran sent President Bush an 18-page letter on Monday. Instead White House officials were allowed to describe the letter as “a meandering screed”, Condoleezza Rice said it “wasn't addressing the issues” and John Bolton, the US ambassador at the UN, said it was “throwing sand in the eyes” of diplomats. An Iranian government official said the letter was intended to analyse “the philosophical, historical and religious roots of Iran's relationship to the West”. The American view is that it is an attempt to disrupt the talks about Iran's nuclear ambitions currently taking place in the UN Security Council. Perhaps that is its purpose but surely it is worth taking advantage of the Iranian initiative to open direct talks? A growing body of opinion in the United States is urging President Bush to talk to Tehran. John McCain, a likely Republican presidential candidate in 2008, has said that talks should be considered and Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has proposed talks with Iran, India and China on energy and security issues. If nothing else, why doesn't Mr Bush ask someone to write a reply for him on America's “philosophical, historical and religious” view of relations with the Middle East?