By Ray Fleming

ONE year ago, in his first address to the United Nations, President Obama spoke positively about negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme.

Yesterday at the UN he again spoke about an “open door” for such negotiations to be resumed; during the week Iran's President Ahmadinejad has been telling the media in New York that such talks are “inevitable”. Last year talks took place after Obama's speech but broke down in October and were followed this June by the UN Security Council's toughest set of sanctions yet directed at Iran.

A peaceful resolution of the crisis over Iran's nuclear intentions is of criticial importance. The problem is the difficulty of negotiating with the government in Tehran. Last year a complex, but workable, deal on handling Iran's 20 per cent enriched uranium by France and Russia was apparently approved by delegates at talks in Geneva but then rejected by officials in Tehran. Has anything changed to justify greater optimism now? Possibly. On Wednesday, in a serious blow to Iran's expectations, President Medvedev of Russia confirmed that Moscow interpreted the terms of the UN sanctions to include S-300 air defence missiles which it had intended to supply to Iran in a deal worth US$800 million.There have already been signs that the UN sanctions are biting, particularly in the economic and energy areas; the Russian decision may help to persuade Iran that serious negotiations are necessary and urgent.