IN OTHER WORDS: Diplo-flub

Just as it would be hard to imagine music without notes or poetry without words, diplomacy is impossible without broad diplomatic contacts — including ones with potentially objectionable parties. Yet certain powerful governments have been trying to change the rules of diplomacy. The Bush administration has now criticised France, an ally, for contacts that were entirely reasonable, and Germany is limiting certain contacts out of deference to China. The issue came to a head this week when France acknowledged one of its diplomats had met with le-aders of the Palestinian mo-vement Hamas, and when a second-tier German minister chatted for 45 minutes with the Dalai Lama during his recent visit to Germany.

Talking to Hamas need not mean appeasement. Two years ago, Bush himself rejected pleas from Abbas and Israel to keep Hamas out of parliamentary elections on the grounds that it was a terrorist organisation. If Bush once wanted Hamas to participate in elections, it hardly makes sense for him to quarantine a Hamas government now. Germany’s awkward reception of the Dalai Lama was also discouraging. Refusing contacts with Hamas may be counterproductive. But when officials of a democratic Germany boycott the world’s preeminent

advocate of nonviolence, that is far worse than a mere diplomatic blunder.