DIPLOMACY, THE ART and practice of negotiation between nations, is by its nature conducted mostly through private conversations and the exchange of confidential documents. The same is true for the formulation of foreign policy within the United States government, where the announcement of a new position on any issue is usually preceded by weeks or months of undisclosed meetings and negotiations among the officials involved.
There is, of course, a substantial public component to the conduct of international affairs. Foreign ministers and ambassadors use public statements and news conferences to explain their policies, seek support for them, and put pressure on other countries in the negotiations of the moment. But the actual give and take of bargaining--if you let us keep troops here, we will make more water available there--is carried out behind closed doors. Most of the time, the press and public learn of some negotiated agreement or policy initiative only when this secret work has been completed and the outcome is announced. The conversations and documents containing proposals and counterproposals are not made public until years afterward.
Sometimes, the cloak of secrecy extends even to the fact that negotiations are taking place at all, the best known recent example being the breakthrough negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in Norway, which began as clandestine, unofficial meetings of self-appointed emissaries. For journalists assigned to write about national security and foreign policy matters, the challenge is to find out about such events and initiatives as they are happening, rather than wait for official announcements, and to obtain confidential appraisals from the officials involved to help us explain them. To the extent that we are