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By Ray Fleming TEN days ago in this space and under the heading “Fingers Crossed” I welcomed Iran's apparent readiness to open talks with the Group of Six (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) on “security , political and economic issues, in addition to the nuclear issue.” .

As is usual with Iran there were subsequent somewhat different versions of the agenda, among them an exclusion of the nuclear issue, and as a result there was no immediate response from Washington or the Group of Six whose coordinator is the EU's Javier Solana.

However, late on Friday the White House announced that it was ready to join its five o-members in talks with Iran -- while making it clear in briefing that it is not over-optimistic about the outcome.

This welcome decision does two things: it fulfils President Obama's pledge that the US is ready for open and unconditional talks with Iran and it means that for the first time since 1979 an American negotiator will share a table with an Iranian representative. The decision will be criticised as showing weakness on America's part but the counter argument that it will test Iran's readiness to engage in substantive negotiations seems more persuasive. It will also be said that Iran's initiative is simply a way of delaying the deadline of late-September set by Barack Obama for consideration of further UN sanctions against Iran. The Tehran regime is not an easy negotiating partner but the effort to find understanding and agreement is worth making.