Other places to talk

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TALK is cheap, as they say, but politicians tend to be expensive, particularly at the international level. The gold-plating, and often goldbricking, at organizations like the United Nations and the European Community are legendary.

But as this first full week of a United Nations General Assembly session wraps up, we feel a renewed appreciation for the value of ``mere'' talk, of almost any contact between leaders of nations, whether with scores to settle or not. We also feel an appreciation for international organizations as venues for such contacts.

One example was the UN meeting this week of George Shultz, American secretary of state, and his Spanish counterpart, Francisco Fern'andez-Ord'onez, who managed an agreement on US military bases in Spain.

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We don't imagine that the two just bumped into each other in an elevator, but often diplomatic business does get done as a result of such informal encounters, in passing, on the way to do something else. How much easier to put out a few feelers to one's opposite number while munching canap'es at a reception on neutral territory than at a formal meeting in one or the other's capital.

Not to suggest that the international organizations are some sort of big hot tub in which longtime pugilists simply mellow out together. But it is noteworthy how Franco-German animosity, for instance, has turned into friendship under the umbrella of the European Community. Britain and Ireland, long separated by much more than just the Irish Sea, have likewise found the EC a forum in which to meet on a more equal footing and sort out their differences in the framework of the larger European good.

The EC connection has been good even for Northern Ireland. The inability of its politicians to manage a functioning provincial government has resulted in direct rule from London since 1972. But some of those same politicos are also Europarliamentarians; when they meet in Strasbourg, they can say things they don't say in Belfast.

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