- The Washington Times - Friday, February 14, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 (UPI) — Diplomats complain they have never worked so hard, and on so many fronts at once. Take U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Immediately after the U.N. Security Council session, at which the American, British, French, German and Russian foreign ministers gathered to hear the report on Iraq's compliance from chief inspector Hans Blix, Annan packed his bags to fly to Brussels for Monday's emergency summit of the European Union leaders.

The British, French and German foreign ministers had to get back even faster, for their own meeting in Brussels Monday ahead of the evening summit. And if the gulfs between the United States and some of its traditional European allies yawned wide at the United Nations it gaped even wider in Brussels. Germany, France and Belgium faced a majority of EU leaders who wanted to back the Americans, with Britain's Tony Blair joined by Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Spain's Jose-Maria Aznar.

Meanwhile, at the other side of the world, over a hundred leaders from the developing world were heading for Malaysia for the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, a gathering of nations that dates from the most heated days of the Cold War, when countries like India tried to chart a neutral course. The NAM still thrives, but Iraq will be high on the agenda with South Africa determined to use the forum to urge restraint on the path to war.

And South Africa has also led the drive to organize next week's special session at the United Nations, at which other member states will be invited to present their own views on Iraq to the Security Council.

But the diplomatic flurry does not end there. As well as urging its pause for more inspections at the United Nations and the EU, France is also lobbying Russia and the Arab League to back a tripartite statement on Iraq giving U.N. arms inspectors more time to carry out their mission. French and Russian ambassadors, Philippe Lecourtier and Boris Bolotine respectively, pressed the cause with Lebanon's foreign minister, Mahmoud Hammoud, even as Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri met French President Jacques Chirac in Paris to declare that the two countries' stands on Iraq were "completely identical."

Even as the U.N. Security Council was meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher formally requested that the Arab League host in Cairo an emergency summit on the Iraq crisis "as soon as possible" — ahead of the annual Arab leaders summit scheduled for next month in Bahrain. Arab foreign ministers will meet in Cairo Sunday.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Greek Foreign Minister George Panandreou — Greece currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU — was planning a visit to Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat. Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Papandreau to explain that since Iraeli politicians were busy forming their new government, he "warmly recommends" a postponement.

In the event, the EU's envoy on the Middle East, Miguel Moratinos, and the U.N. secretary-general's representative, Terje Larsen, and the Russian envoy Andrei Vodobin, met Arafat this week without even asking for Israeli permission or approval, preparing the agenda for the second round of talks on Palestinian reforms in London next week. Their lobbying succeeded. Arafat Thursday bowed to EU demands that he appoint a new prime minister.

"Everybody understands that whatever the outcome in Iraq, it will be a top international priority to get the Middle East peace process, and Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, back on some kind of track again," commented a senior British diplomat.

So despite the tensions between the United States and some Europeans over Iraq, they will soon be working together again in the Middle East through the Quartet mechanism, the body that brings together the United Nations, the EU, Russia and the United States.

But Iraq and Israel-Palestine are not the only issues clamoring for the world's attention. The India-Pakistan tensions over Kashmir are still high, after the mutual expulsion of ambassadors last week. And India's Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh this week ruled out any separate India-Pakistan talks at the NAM summit.

And that's not all. One reason why the EU's foreign policy has looked so chaotic and divided in recent days is that the man who is supposed to run it, former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, was elsewhere. Solana was in South Korea, trying to bring some Euro-diplomacy to the crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions. He flew back to Europe in time for the EU summit, even as the row in NATO ground bitterly on.

France, Belgium and Germany were still blocking a NATO plan to send support to Turkey, claiming it would mean locking NATO into "the logic of war." Not that France and Germany wanted to leave Turkey defenseless. Germany sent a battery of Patriot missiles, and Chirac rang his Turkish counterpart Thursday to assure him that France would come to Turkey's aid if required. They were ready to help, but individually rather than under NATO auspices. That's diplomacy.

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