Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Egos, Gaffes and Hissy Fits - the Art of Diplomacy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Egos, Gaffes and Hissy Fits - the Art of Diplomacy

Article excerpt

Byline: Ed Owen

WHATEVER the truth of Gordon Brown's diplomatic discomfort in New York and his kitchen chat with President Obama, the incident suggests the often bizarre reality of much of international relations at this level.

For behind much of the public theatre of diplomacy, the ornate embassies and grand banquets lies a world of personal egos and petty politics that is often more playground than statesmanlike.

It is a world where power and hierarchy usually count for more than ideas, where status and symbolism trump genuine dialogue. Hence the routine to-ing and fro-ing over exactly what kind of meeting one leader or minister has with another - a "walk by"? A "walk and talk"? Or the holy grail of a bilateral? The results can be perverse, even comic.

I accompanied Jack Straw on his first trip to Israel, four months into his new job as Foreign Secretary in 2001. It was an important moment, coming a few weeks after 9/11 and as Straw sought to establish himself on the world stage.

The trip was a diplomatic disaster, not because of what it failed to achieve - such trips rarely have a particular purpose beyond demonstrating which countries are important to our interests - but because Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to have a diplomatic hissy fit.

He cancelled his scheduled meeting with Straw. The reason? Straw had made the faux pas of using the word "Palestine" in a newspaper article on the Middle East, published in Iran.

The cancellation was the ultimate snub: we were horrified. What would it do to Straw's reputation? Where would this leave UK-Israeli relations? How would this terrible personal slight be covered in the press? Frantic phone calls followed between diplomats, officials and flunkeys to try to reverse Sharon's decision. It took a personal call from Tony Blair to change the old general's mind and the meeting went ahead late at night. …

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