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The Year In Diplomacy

The good news: America did not launch a war against Iraq this year. The bad news: it will not surprise anyone if President George W. Bush undertakes a military campaign to remove Saddam Hussein early in 2003.

The diplomatic highlight of 2002 has to be the decision of the Bush administration to give diplomacy one last chance to work in its effort to rid Iraq of its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Mr. Bush, rejecting Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's preference not to give U.N. inspectors another chance, took Secretary of State Colin Powell's advice and challenged the U.N. to stand up to the regime in Baghdad, which has defied more than a dozen earlier U.N. resolutions.

The Security Council passed Resolution 1441 after much debate and enough changes to get a unanimous 15-0 vote in support of sending inspectors back into Iraq. Russia and France were satisfied enough not to use their veto and even Iraq's neighbor, Syria, the only Arab country on the council, was persuaded to support the international effort to get Saddam to disarm voluntarily.

In Washington, very few expect success (even Powell is skeptical), but if war is the eventual outcome it will not be without this last diplomatic effort to avert it. To keep the pressure on Saddam, military preparations were well under way to carry out Mr. Bush's oft-stated promise that if Saddam doesn't disarm himself, the U.S. would lead an international coalition of willing nations to do it.

2002 comes to an end in other parts of the world with more mixed results.

The EU added new members, cementing the diplomatic effort towards a united Europe. However, American efforts to persuade the EU to begin talks with Turkey soon about possible membership were largely ignored. NATO added seven new members and worked out a new relationship with Russia, easing past strains and moving toward unity.

India and Pakistan continued efforts to relax tensions and avert war between the two nuclear, South Asian powers although no real progress was made in their dispute over Kashmir. Afghanistan's new government, under President Hamid Karzai, made progress and started to use the billions of dollars in international aid it has received to begin rebuilding a country which had been at war for two decades. State department and U.S. AID officials noted progress especially for women and girls, but dealing with various tribal war lords is still a problem for the central government, and the war against the Taliban is not yet complete.

Fighting continued between Israelis and Palestinians throughout the year. Hundreds died on both sides as various diplomatic efforts failed to work. President Bush spoke about "two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side" but a growing lack of trust between the Bush administration and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat slowed the already slim hope for progress. Since Secretary Powell met with Arafat in Ramallah in April, American diplomats, on orders from Washington, have refused to see him again.

The Bush administration has put most of its efforts into an international context, working with EU representatives, the U.N. and Russia — the so-called "Quartet" — but everything is on hold until after Israeli elections in late January. The Palestinians were also supposed to hold elections next month but they have been postponed because of the poor security situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

World oil supplies were disrupted late in the year when Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, was challenged by a general strike, including workers from the country's oil sector. Washington put its diplomatic weight behind the Organization of American States' effort to defuse the crisis.

If diplomats handed out awards for violating international agreements the clear winner in 2002 would have to be North Korea. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, the first senior Bush administration official to visit Pyongyang, confronted officials there during his October visit with evidence they were continuing to work on nuclear programs. Kelly was taken by surprise when North Korean officials openly admitted to him they were indeed moving forward on their nuclear weapons program, a clear violation of the 1994 agreement negotiated with the Clinton administration, as well as other international agreements.

The violation of diplomatic agreements is one thing but the consequences of Pyongyang's actions may be quite another. Washington decided to stop future shipments of fuel oil to North Korea and worked on uniting its allies — South Korea, Japan, China and Russia — to press Kim Jong Il's regime to stop playing a game of what many were calling "nuclear brinkmanship" to get more international aid. Washington's answer was blunt: "We won't be blackmailed," said White House and State Department spokesmen. With 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea, tensions were rising as the year ends.

President Bush named Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union speech on January 29, 2002. Given the possibility of war with Iraq and a very uncertain outcome to the latest confrontation with North Korea, there is the potential for a very dangerous and unstable 2003. Among the three, only Iran is not an immediate threat,although it continues its work on a nuclear weapons program.

2002 ends with several unusual and potentially negative scenarios: the looming possibility of having to fight two new wars in addition to the continuing war on terrorism,and, at the same time, leaving the Israeli-Palestinian problem on the back-burner with potentially disastrous consequences. There is no question that in 2003 diplomats will have their work cut out for them, the only open question may be: after how much blood is shed.

By Charles M. Wolfson