IN Geneva yesterday, the so-called Group of Six (UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany) resumed discussions with Iran after a break of almost eighteen months. For reasons not entirely clear, but very welcome anyway, the chair was taken by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's British Foreign Policy chief.
When Iran proposed two months ago that talks should be resumed, I commented here that it might be just another delaying tactic while its nuclear programme continued, or a sign that UN sanctions against Iran were working, or a genuine wish to return to the negotiating table - but that it would be worth finding out which of the three possibilities it was.
Yesterday's talks were amicable if general in content and they will continue today after which the two sides will consider whether to hold further and more specific discussions in the New Year. The principal issue for the Group of Six remains the danger that Iran's nuclear programme is for military purposes while for Iran it is its right to pursue a peaceful programme. Hanging over this Geneva meeting may have been one new factor -- the evidence of the WikiLeaks documentation that other Middle East powers, in particular Saudi Arabia, have been urging the United States to make a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. Wisely, President Obama has resisted this pressure in the hope that negotiation will prove to be the better choice.